When caring for elderly loved ones, it’s important to be informed about the types of health issues—large and small—that can arise. Knowing about common difficulties, including how to spot them and how to treat them, can greatly increase your older loved one’s chances for a quick recovery and lower the risk of serious complications.

One of the most common minor health concerns for the elderly is UTIs or urinary tract infections. A urinary tract infection is an infection caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract via the urethra, the tube that transports urine from the bladder to outside the body. If left untreated, the infection can move upward through the urinary tract and lead to complications where the bladder or kidneys become infected.

The treatment for UTIs is fairly simple and usually involves an oral antibiotic coupled with the recommendation to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and urinate frequently. Though the long-term effects of having a UTI are largely inconsequential, they can be especially difficult on individuals with dementia.

Those with dementia are often affected by UTIs differently than others. In addition to the traditional physical symptoms—burning sensation when urinating, an intense and frequent urge to urinate, tiredness, shakiness, and fever or chills—those with dementia will often experience behavioral symptoms as well.

For those with dementia, UTIs can be especially dangerous. Individuals with dementia may have difficulty finding the right words to say how they’re feeling, which can mean that their UTI can go undetected and become more detrimental to their health. Additionally, UTIs can cause sudden confusion and a mental state called delirium in those with dementia. Delirium can lead to exacerbated behavioral issues like agitation, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, delusions, or withdrawal.

If you notice any of these characteristics in a loved one with dementia, it’s important to get them tested for a UTI, then offer emotional support to get them through their state of delirium. Reassure them that they are safe, then consult a doctor for a short-term treatment that may involve an antipsychotic drug.

Though UTIs are common, especially among older adults and women, they can be particularly difficult for those with dementia. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of UTIs and what to do if you suspect that a loved one may have one. If your loved one lives at an assisted living or independent living community, you can rest assured that the staff there is trained to care for elderly residents with UTIs. At St. Martin’s in the Pine’s Evergreen Memory Care, there’s an entire staff of professionally licensed nurses, medical social workers, geriatric psychiatrists, nursing assistants, and caregivers who are all equipped to recognize UTIs in those with dementia and give the best possible care.