Advice by Alicia: Dementia and UTIs

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Alicia Seaver is the Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to [email protected].


Q: My mother, who has dementia, is behaving very strangely and not her normal self at all. She’s suddenly much more confused than usual and has become more anxious and agitated. I know that this is normal behavior in dementia but just came out of nowhere, and something feels off. What can I do?


A: Yes, it’s true that agitation and anxiety – and other similar unwanted behaviors – are symptoms of dementia. However, if those symptoms started very suddenly and very recently, it’s possible that these symptoms are not due to the dementia itself. This can be especially true if your loved one is experiencing hallucinations or delusions. It could be that your loved one has an undiagnosed urinary tract infection (UTI).


When we think about developing a UTI, we imagine the usual symptoms: difficulty urinating, a burning sensation, fever, darkening urine and a change in urine scent. However, seniors can experience different symptoms that can make a UTI easy to overlook. Oftentimes, the only indication that a senior has an UTI is a sudden, severe change in their mental state or cognitive function.


It’s hard enough to diagnose a UTI in an otherwise healthy senior, and it’s even more challenging when the senior has dementia. Sudden behavioral changes in your loved one can be very distressing, but they can also be very important warning signs. The best thing to do in a case like this is to reach out to your loved one’s medical professional and schedule an appointment. A simple urine test can help rule out (or diagnose) a UTI – and you don’t want to let a UTI go untreated. UTIs can cause serious problems in seniors, including kidney damage and sepsis.


Here are some indications that you should schedule an appointment with your loved one’s physician to see if a UTI is present:

  • Dramatic mood swings that come seemingly out of nowhere
  • Sudden delusions and delirium (hallucinations)
  • Increased confusion, anxiety or disorientation
  • A rapid decline in physical health
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping more than usual


Staying on top of your loved one’s health is one of the best things you can do as a caregiver to ensure their quality of life. Anytime you notice an unexplained behavioral change or notice something “different” about your loved one, we strongly recommend speaking with your loved one’s physician. It’s very possible that your loved one is experiencing a medical condition that should be treated immediately – like a UTI.

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