If you have older relatives, you might be wondering why UTIs cause confusion in the elderly.
A UTI is a common infection that can happen to anyone, but they can have a particular effect on elderly people.
UTIs can cause confusion in the elderly, so it’s important to notice the signs of one in order to seek help.
In this article we'll explore 'why do UTIs cause confusion in the elderly' and help you spot the warning signs.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- A UTI is a Urinary Tract Infection that can affect the upper (kidneys) or lower (bladder and urethra) urinary tract.
- Symptoms can vary depending on the area affected but elderly people are particularly susceptible to experience confusion as a symptom.
- UTIs can be treated at home with antibiotics and remedies that support urinary health.
- Always seek medical advice if you suspect confusion to identify the cause and access the right support.
What is a UTI?
A Urinary Tract Infection, commonly known as a UTI, is caused by bacteria that gets into the urinary tract.
The bacteria from the digestive tract or faeces enters the urinary tract through a number of ways.
This could include wiping front to back after using the toilet or bacteria build up from bladder emptying issues or urinary catheters.
A UTI can be uncomfortable and inconvenient as they can cause issues around using the toilet amongst other symptoms.
Lower and Upper UTIs
There are two types of UTI’s – lower and upper- which affect different parts of the urinary tract.
Lower UTIs are infections of the bladder and the urethra and cause symptoms related to passing urine.
Burning sensation, passing blood, frequent urination and bladder incontinence are common symptoms.
Upper UTIs affect the kidneys and the tubes that connect them to the bladder (ureters) – they can be serious.
What are the symptoms of UTIs in elderly?
UTIs affect the bladder and urethra or the kidneys, depending on where the infection site is.
However, that doesn’t mean that symptoms are restricted to this area, especially with an upper UTI which affects the kidneys.
Symptoms in elderly can be anything from mild discomfort to serious infection, so getting a suspected UTI checked out is advised.
Doctors may require a urine sample, which is tested to determine the cause and treatment plan.
What are the causes of UTIs?
UTIs can be caused by bacteria from the digestive tract entering the urinary tract and causing an infection.
Similarly if using a urine catheter, this can also allow for bacteria to build up and cause a problem.
Incomplete emptying of the bladder due to weak pelvic floor muscles and enlarged prostate in men also cause UTIs in elderly.
Knowing that elderly people, especially women, may be more at risk of UTIs, caregivers can stay vigilant for symptoms.
What are the main symptoms of UTIs in elderly people?
The symptoms of a lower UTI in elderly people often include:
- Pain or burning feeling whilst urinating
- A very frequent need to urinate
- Blood in your urine
Symptoms of an upper UTI in elderly people often include
- Abdominal pain
- Very high or very low temperature
- Confusion or delirium
How are elderly people affected by UTI symptoms?
Let’s take a closer look at the impact of UTIs on health.
The uncomfortable and worrying symptoms caused by a UTI can be stressful to cope with at any age.
Some people may feel ashamed talking about it or going to a doctor’s appointment, though there is no reason to be.
This can cause disruption to the daily routine and in some cases stop people from doing things they enjoy.
Especially if they are experiencing continence issues which stop them from feeling comfortable outside of home.
Symptoms of confusion
You may be wondering ‘Why do UTIs cause confusion in the elderly?’
Confusion is indeed a common symptom of a UTI in elderly people, caused as the infection progresses.
This can cause further agitation and emotional stress which can have a negative affect on their existing symptoms.
For example, elderly people with dementia can experience heightened confusion and distress due to their condition.
My loved one seems confused, how will I know if a UTI is the cause?
If you provide care for an elderly loved one, you may recognise when they feel uncomfortable or agitated.
But you may not initially notice if they’re having trouble using the toilet unless they have an accident.
If you’re noticing confusion, it’s important to establish whether they are experiencing other UTI symptoms.
This means they get the help they need, as well as ruling out other causes, such as early signs of dementia.
Communication is key
Your loved one may be experiencing a UTI and finding it difficult to communicate how they feel.
They may be refusing to drink or to go to the bathroom, which could mean they have an infection.
It may be that they feel embarrassed admitting they have a ‘private’ problem and get agitated by these feelings.
But they shouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Suggest ways you can support them
Talking to your loved one in a way that lets them know they are safe and supported can help get around any issues.
Start by asking them if they are having trouble passing urine and if you can help them at all.
For example, phoning the doctor for them or going to the pharmacy to get supplies.
Helping them feel relaxed and supported can curb any added agitation that’s exacerbating symptoms of confusion and distress.
How to spot confusion
If you notice your loved one behaving differently or they just don’t seem themselves, they could be experiencing confusion.
Confusion as a result of a UTI comes on suddenly, accompanied by other symptoms of an infection.
Here are some of the common signs of confusion or delirium.
- Not being able to recognise people or places
- Unable to speak clearly
- Not understanding when being spoken to
- Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there
However, there are other causes of sudden confusion such as a mini stroke, dementia or dehydration.
So seek medical help if your loved one is experiencing confusion as they may need further tests.
How can I help a loved one who is confused?
As we’ve seen, communicating clearly with a confused loved one can be the first step to getting them the right support.
Using simple words and explaining what is happening around will encourage them to engage and accept help.
It is possible that your loved one may be acting irrationally in a situation where you’re trying to help them.
While this can be frustrating, it’s important to make them feel comfortable by staying calm yourself.
Here are some ways to reduce anxiety and confusion when supporting a loved one:
- Use a calm voice and be gentle
- Remind them of where they are
- Remind them of what is happening presently
- Associate them with things they are familiar with
- Listen and engage with what they are saying
How can I help my loved one if they have a UTI?
Making sure your loved one is fully hydrated and following their treatment is the best way to reduce symptoms.
For more information on dehydration read our article on ‘can dehydration cause confusion?’
For more severe UTI, especially an upper UTI, treatment in hospital may be necessary.
Call 111 if you think a loved one is experiencing a UTI to get advice on the best course of treatment.
How to help an elderly person if they have a UTI
- General cleanliness and hygiene
- Plenty of water and other fluids
- Loose and comfortable clothing
- Use discreet incontinence pads to protect clothing and furniture
- Allowing regular bathroom visits during daily activities
Your loved one may not feel comfortable receiving personal care from you.
If that’s the case, don’t take offence and don’t force them to, as this will only cause distress.
You could look into professional care options that offer home care assistance on a long term or temporary basis.
Does your loved one need care now?
If you’ve reached a crisis point with your loved one’s care, you may need to organise help quickly.
After completing a Care Search with Sweet Pea, we’ll match you with local care that’s available when you need it.
So you can focus on being there for them, while their care needs are being taken care of.
Just click below to get started.