Senior Physical Health

UTIs: When You Need to Be an NCIS Agent to Recognize One

UTIs: When You Need to Be an NCIS Agent to Recognize One

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Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are tricky!

  • Is Grandma suddenly agitated or irritated by people or situations?
  • Does she talk more? Talk less? Yell when she didn’t before?
  • Is she more confused? Delirious?

Yes, many of these symptoms seem like Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Mental Illness. Those are serious illnesses.

But don’t let a UTI mislead you!

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you can testify: It’s criminal!

But for Grandma, it could be even worse because you might not know she has one. Her sneaky symptoms of a bladder infection may hide in plain sight, making her suffer while you root out the real culprit.

It could be an infection that’s completely treatable, and you can get back the Grandma you know and love—and who knows you!

So what should you be looking for to detect a UTI?

Frontida Assisted Living and Memory Care Facilities provide you with posts like this one to help you live your best life.

What’s a UTI Anyway and Why Does it Matter?

If you don’t recognize this thug by its acronym, you probably know it better as a bladder infection. And left untreated, it spreads to the kidneys.

Its cause? Bacteria. The bad kind.

Sadly, the more you have this infection—the more you’ll get it. Meaning, if you don’t take care of it completely, it becomes chronic. Then you’re looking at possible kidney damage or even sepsis, where the infection spreads throughout the body.

Definitely a villain you want to capture quickly. Now you just have to recognize it.

Rounding Up the Usual Suspects: Common UTI Symptoms that Are Hard to Miss

Some UTI symptoms present a near open-and-shut case.

  • It hurts every time she urinates at her assisted living facility
  • She keeps wanting to go to the bathroom
  • When she tries to go, only a little urine dribbles out
  • She suddenly struggles with incontinence
  • There’s blood in her urine

If Grandma suffers from any of these by-the-book symptoms, you can almost guarantee the perpetrator is an infection in the bladder or the kidneys.

It’s time to call the doctor for a urine test.

But not all symptoms are so clear cut with Grandma at her assisted living facility. What aliases should make you suspicious?

Scam Artists: UTI Symptoms that Impersonate Other Issues

While the usual suspects of a UTI tend to taunt the bladder, these other rogue symptoms hijack the whole body.

Worse yet, they disguise themselves, looking like other common illnesses. So when you try to treat what you think is the problem, you end up chasing dead leads.

Keep an eye out for these shysters:

Physical Tip-offs:

UTIs can affect Grandma from head to toe.

The FACIAL Composite:

  • Does she have headaches or fevers
  • Is she more dizzy or drowsy lately
  • Is she having facial tics

The CORE Weight:

  • Is she cramping, bloated, constipated
  • Is she nauseous
  • Have her eating habits changed at the assisted living or memory care facility…suddenly not hungry, nothing tastes good

Does she have

  • Night Sweats
  • Backaches
  • Pain in her pelvis, especially in the center and around the bone
  • Smelly, cloudy urine
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure

Finally, the “Muddy” SHOE PRINT:

  • Has her walking changed at the assisted living facility—slowing down, wobbling, listing
  • Does she fall more

Grandma may not experience all these symptoms at the same time, but if she has several of them and you’ve ruled out other obvious reasons, you have probable cause to have her tested for a bladder or kidney infection.

But physical ailments aren’t the only foul play caused by UTIs.

Behavioral Tip-offs:

If Grandma’s already struggling with an illness, a UTI can make it much worse—or turn her into a different person altogether.

  • All that agitation. Irritation.
  • Changes in how she talks. If she talks.
  • Confusion. Delirium.
  • The sudden or extra forgetfulness.

How is all that different from Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

With memory loss, confusion and forgetfulness tend to be gradual. With a UTI, it’s much more sudden.

When in doubt, ask your doctor about testing her.

Bulletproofing Grandma: How to Help Her Avoid UTIs in the First Place

Yes, you want to be able to spot a UTI, but it will save a lot of pain and suffering if you can stop it before it hits.

So how do you prevent it?

Listen to Your Informants

Depending on what she’s already been through, your grandma could be the target of a UTI more than someone else.

  • Has she had a stroke? Kidney stones? Spinal cord injury? Multiple sclerosis? Each of these could affect urine flow. If urine backs up, so can germs.
  • Does she have diabetes? Her immune system may struggle to fight even a little bacteria. Which could make that little become a mob.
  • Post-menopause? Without that estrogen routine, the urinary tract changes. Voila, it’s more vulnerable to attack.

(And for all those Grandpas out there, they have risks, too. Yes, women tend to struggle more frequently with UTIs, but for men, enlarged prostates conspire against them. That whole blocking-the-urine thing.)

Investigate the Shadows

Sorry to say, while Grandma’s medical procedures may be necessary, they can also become UTI accomplices.

  • Catheter walls are an open invitation for bacterial graffiti. Change them often at the assisted living facility and make sure they fit well.
  • Recent urinary surgery or examination? Yep, those medical instruments are uncomfortable, especially because they can aggravate tissue. Ask the doctor for UTI prevention tips.

Watch Out for Double Agents

While medications help you with one thing, they could be hurting you with another.

  • You know those TV drug ads where they list all the possible side effects auctioneer style? If they list diarrhea or constipation, listen carefully. The sub-side effect could be a UTI.
  • Antihistamines or decongestants may make Grandma’s cold, flu, or allergy better, but they’ll also dry her out. She’s going to need extra fluids at the assisted living facility because UTIs love dehydration!
  • And if Grandma’s already on antibiotics, make sure it isn’t killing off the “Good Guys,” like the healthy bacteria in her digestive system. Improperly handcuff them, and she could end up with diarrhea or constipation which, again, could domino into UTIs.

Be Grandma’s Best Defense

You’ve read the risks. Now, how can you protect Grandma from becoming their hostage at the assisted living facility?

  • First and foremost, encourage her to drink water at her assisted living or memory care facility! Lots of it. Remember, UTIs thrive when she’s dehydrated.
  • Make sure she doesn’t have to “hold it.” Keep bathrooms easily accessible and safe.
  • And if she’s taking antibiotics for something else, serve up live-culture yogurt to give the Good-Guy bacteria a fighting chance.

And If She Does Get Hit with a Bladder Infection?

A urine test will tell the doctor what kind of bacteria you’re dealing with. And he’ll probably prescribe an antibiotic.

  • But while you’re waiting, try red grapes and cranberry juice. They contain a special agent called “tannin” that may prevent bad bacteria from sticking to the bladder—in other words, it can detain the infection.
  • You can also fix her a warm bath at her assisted living facility to soothe bloating and cramping. She can’t get in or out of the tub? Skip the bath and try a heating pad on the tummy and back.
  • A couple of Ibuprofen can also reduce swelling—because that’s what the bacteria is doing. Making the bladder lining swell.

Unfortunately, this is not a good time to have her favorite cup of joe, carbonated soda, or even O.J. While she might enjoy the charge, so would the bacteria: the acidity keeps it ticking.

But she can always have water!

And once the doctor prescribes an antibiotic—whatever you do—make sure Grandma finishes every pill at her assisted living facility, even if her symptoms are gone. If she doesn’t? That chronic mess rears its ugly mug.

Putting the UTI to Rest

Yes, this infection can be ruthless. It counterfeits symptoms from other illnesses, throwing you off the real offender.

It’s time to stop it in its tracks.

If Grandma suddenly has new medical indications while at the assisted living or memory care facility, take a closer look to detect if it’s really a masked bladder infection .

Because if a UTI’s harassing Grandma, she doesn’t want to be its victim anymore!

Need more help to keep Grandma safe?

Check out these other helpful posts on keeping seniors physically healthy.

Elizabeth Daghfal
• 6 min read

Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at