Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is demanding even in the best of circumstances. It often seems like an endless game of plate spinning, dashing from one task to the next as you try to keep everything balanced and moving in the right direction. It doesn’t take much to set your daily routines wobbling. If your loved one suddenly seems to slip deeper into confusion or begins to display signs of worsening health, it’s understandably alarming. It can also be extremely frustrating since basic facts are usually hard to come by. You can’t simply ask the person what’s wrong, and without the answers you need, it leaves only questions: Is this a permanent decline? Is it a medical emergency? Should we head to the emergency room? And perhaps the most distressing of all—is this somehow my fault?
While every situation is unique, if your loved one is experiencing increased confusion, fatigue, and irritability, one of the most common causes is also one of the most easily treated: a urinary tract infection (UTI). It may seem like an odd diagnosis for these symptoms, but because the immune systems of the elderly react to infections differently than those of younger individuals, UTI symptoms such as burning pain when urinating, pain in the lower back, and an increased need to pee might all be absent. And even if they do manifest, someone with Alzheimer’s may not be able to articulate what he or she is feeling. In addition to increased confusion and fatigue, some other symptoms to look out for include:
- Bladder incontinence or leakage
- Cloudy, dark, and odorous urine
- Becoming more distant or withdrawn
Why Elderly Alzheimer’s Patients Are More at Risk
Although anyone at any age can develop a urinary tract infection, several factors increase the risk of illness in elderly Alzheimer’s patients. Since these infections are caused by bacteria in the bladder or urethra, conditions that allow for the proliferation of harmful microorganisms in those locations are the root causes of most UTIs.
As people age, the gastronomical system slows down. This means the bladder retains urine for a longer amount of time, increasing the likelihood of contamination from bacteria in the gut. Other age-related conditions such as diabetes and incontinence (yes, it can be both a symptom and a cause) can also increase the risk of developing a UTI.
Those with Alzheimer’s often lose the ability to realize they need to go to the bathroom. This can result in them holding their urine until they have an accident. As the brain deteriorates, the opposite can also happen. No longer able to control the muscles of the pelvic floor, Alzheimer’s patients are deprived of their ability to prevent leakage, which can provide favorable conditions for bacterial growth if not cleaned up quickly.
Women are more likely to get UTIs than men. This is because the urethra is closer to the anus, making it more susceptible to bacterial exposure. Men with prostate issues are also at higher risk of infections because an enlarged prostate can constrict the upper urethra, preventing flow and causing urine to remain in the bladder for longer periods of time.
Personal hygiene frequently suffers when a loved can no longer bathe without assistance. Alzheimer’s patients often have an aversion to water, complicating matters. And if they’re incontinent and using pads or adult diapers, maintain cleanliness can be extremely challenging for caregivers.
One of the most common causes of UTIs is dehydration. Reduced urine production means the body has fewer opportunities to flush harmful bacteria out of the body. Many elderly people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty swallowing, making them reluctant to drink as much as they should. They may also experience thirst as a vague feeling of discomfort rather than an acute need for fluids.
Although UTIs are common, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of your loved one becoming ill. The most often mentioned are:
- Monitoring fluid intake – To prevent dehydration, adults should drink the equivalent of eight glasses of water a day. Frequent small drinks may be less intimidating for Alzheimer’s patients than a large, full glass. One strategy that may be helpful is to offer drinks in colorful plastic shot glasses. For those who prefer flavored drinks to plain water, cranberry juice is often recommended to help maintain urinary health.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom – Prompt your loved one to use the toilet every two hours. Keep the bathroom clean, easy to navigate, and cheerful. A comfort-height toilet, padded seat, and grab bars can all make it easier for seniors to perform their duties unassisted. You may also want to consider a brightly colored toilet seat that’s easier to see than a white one.
- Maintain good hygiene – Daily showers (as opposed to baths) are the preferred method of bathing, especially for women. If the person you’re caring for is uncomfortable with running water, a sponge bath is a good alternative, so long as the room is warm enough to prevent chills. If privacy is a concern, a shower cape can help maintain a sense of decorum. And women should always wipe “front-to-back” when cleaning the pelvic area.
In-Home Treatments for UTIs
There are also several in-home remedies that may hasten the rate of recovery. Increased urine output can help flush out harmful bacteria, so drinking more often is a good first step. Cranberry juice can fight infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. Probiotics from yogurts, some cheeses, and sauerkraut have been shown to do the same thing. And getting an adequate amount of vitamin C can also lower the pH of urine, making it more difficult for bacteria to survive.
While all these methods are helpful, to ensure your loved one is indeed on the road to recovery, a professional medical evaluation is necessary to first confirm that a UTI is present, and then to provide any additional medications or treatments that may be required. This can, of course, be done at a walk-in clinic, doctor’s office, or emergency room, but all of those options require a significant amount of planning and preparation. Getting someone with Alzheimer’s dressed, coaxing them into the car, explaining what’s happening—usually again and again—and assuaging their fears can be an exhausting ordeal. Instead of going to an office or clinic, why not have a team of medical professionals come to you? DispatchHealth can provide first-rate care in the comfort of your own home. When you reach out to us, one of our crews will arrive at your residence within two hours with all the equipment necessary to examine, diagnose, and treat your family member.
Since urinary tract infections are often accompanied by other conditions such as dehydration and fever, our team will be able to provide a full range of medical services, including electrolyte testing, a script for antibiotics, administration of IV fluids if necessary, and a detailed report for a primary care physician. What’s more, our services are covered by most insurance companies. We even accept Medicare and Medicaid.
House calls aren’t a thing of the past. Thanks to DispatchHealth, they’re still alive and well. So the next time you suspect a UTI, request care from DispatchHealth via phone, our mobile app, or online, and we’ll be there within a few hours.