One stellar example of the synchronicity and holistic nature of the human body and health is the relationship between dementia and urinary tract infections (UTIs). How can your ability to focus, think, and remember be related to a urinary tract infection?
The association is not farfetched at all. Understanding how and why this odd couple may occur can help many people better help their loved ones and perhaps improve their quality of life.
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection is a condition typically caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract via the tube (urethra) that transports urine from the bladder to outside the body. The microorganisms may also move up into the bladder and kidneys and cause cystitis and pyelonephritis (kidney inflammation), respectively.
Women are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection than men. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to eliminate the infection, although there are also several natural remedies you can try as well, including cranberries and probiotics (good bacteria).
Urinary tract infections and dementia
Among older adults and individuals with dementia, the development of a urinary tract infection can cause a variety of symptoms, including sudden confusion, anxiety, agitation, withdrawal, hallucinations, paranoia, or other unexplained changes in behavior. Frequently—but not always—these people also have symptoms of a urinary tract infections, such as burning when urinating, needing to urinate frequently, abdominal or back pain, dark urine color, fever, and difficulty urinating.
However, not everyone has clear symptoms or none at all, so the infection may be missed. These UTIs are known as “silent” infections. Another issue is that someone who already has impaired memory and cognitive function may not be able to tell you about how they feel or that they are having difficulty with urination. That’s why it’s important to be proactive if a loved one begins to display sudden behavior changes, as a delay in treatment could speed up the progression of dementia.
Managing urinary tract infections: cranberries
One way to help prevent or manage urinary tract infections naturally is to take cranberry supplements. Researchers theorize that cranberries have a substance that makes it more difficult for infection-causing bacteria to adhere to the walls of the urinary tract. The substance is called A-type PACs (proanthocyanidins), and the PACs in cranberries differ from those found in other foods. A recommended dose of 36 mg of PACS is shown to be most effective.
The exact way the cranberries work in the urinary tract is not understood. The fruits may alter the bacteria so they can’t stick to the walls, or the cranberries may produce a slippery coating that helps prevent the bacteria from getting a good hold on the urinary tract walls.
In a 2017 review and meta-analysis, investigators evaluated data from seven randomized controlled trials that involved 1498 women. They concluded that cranberry “may be effective in preventing UTI recurrence in generally healthy women.”
Managing urinary tract infections: probiotics
Numerous studies have shown probiotics can be effective in managing and preventing UTIs. The main microorganism involved in UTIs is Escherichia coli, which spreads from the rectum to the vagina and then travels up the urinary tract. Because the healthy microorganisms in the vagina are mainly Lactobacillus species, taking a probiotic supplement that contains these bacteria may help reduce the risk of UTIs.
In a 2017 study, the authors reported that increasing the amount of Lactobacilli with probiotic supplements “has long been conceived but has been recently shown to be possible.” They also noted that these probiotics “may especially be useful for women with a history of recurrent, complicated UTIs or on prolonged antibiotic use.”
For older adults with or without dementia or other cognitive challenges, the use of a supplement that can help prevent or manage urinary tract infections may be a wise road to take. A supplement that combines both cranberry and probiotics can be a good option since both of these ingredients have shown benefits for urinary tract health.
[Editor's Note: Utiva has a whole line of products for urinary tract health. You can perform an at-home test to see if you do indeed have a UTI and then help resolve it with cranberry, d-mannose, and probiotic supplements. Utiva has an app for tracking your urinary health as well as an ebook about UTIs. You can learn more on their site and save 25% by using the code SAVVY25 on your purchases.]
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Alzheimer’s Association. Sudden change in behavior? Urinary tract infection could be the cause. 2011 Oct 21
Fu Z et al. Cranberry reduces the risk of urinary tract infection recurrence in otherwise healthy women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Nutrition 2017; 147(12): 2282-88
Gupta V et al. Recurrent urinary tract infections in women: How promising is the use of probiotics? Indian Journal of Medicine & Microbiology 2017; 35(3):347-54.