Surprising Link Between Dementia and UTIs

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Photo by ArtWithTammy / CCO

During the 30-plus years that I’ve been writing Alternatives, I’ve often shared bits of insight that were given to me by my parents. From the moment we’re born, we are constantly learning, and much of what we learn comes from our parents. What has surprised me personally, however, is just how much I’ve continued to learn from them even during the end stages of their lives.

Before my father passed away a few years ago in his 90s, his body was failing to such a degree that we had to move him into a nursing home. His mind, though, was sharp as a tack until the very end. During my regular visits with him, I would always get an in-depth evaluation of the latest political events along with his predictions and thoughts about current sporting events.

It was also during those visits that I got a close firsthand look at many of the health issues confronting the elderly that cause them to need nursing assistance. Although the reasons were somewhat varied, two factors stood out.

For one, the large majority, like my dad, had physical limitations that kept them from living independently. Over time, a lack of any meaningful exercise had taken its toll on their bodies.

That’s when I took a closer look at what specific exercises could be used to improve range of motion and strengthen the joints that often deteriorate and lead to a lack of independence. I shared these in numerous articles and hopefully you’ve started to implement them in your daily routine. Strength and mobility are essential if you want to remain independent for as long as possible.

The second factor that stood out was the lack of mental stability. I’m not talking about forgetting where you left the keys; I’m talking about more serious dementia.

Dementia involves the loss of memory and other mental abilities to the point that it interferes with daily life. It comes in many forms, the most well-known being Alzheimer’s disease.

Many cases of dementia have been linked to overt nutritional deficiencies and/or poor circulation. A good diet, supplements, and an exercise program can go a long way in preventing and even treating these cases. Unfortunately, as a matter of time and convenience, most nursing facilities place practically all their emphasis on drug therapy.

As I mentioned earlier, my dad’s physical body failed, but he didn’t have even a hint of dementia. Unfortunately, my mother’s current situation has turned out to be just the opposite.

My mother is in her 90s and until just a month or so ago, was able to wash her own car, shop for groceries, and live independently. Although she had the expected “wear and tear” arthritis, for the most part her body was (and still is) in great shape.

Then, almost overnight, we noticed a drastic and debilitating change in her behavior and mental ability. Much like the events that took place with my dad, what I learned from my mother’s situation has been eye opening to say the least.

For your own sake, and the sake of your friends and loved ones, please share the following information with as many people as you can.

Health effects of an unbalanced microbiome

For decades, I’ve been researching and writing about the influence our body’s microflora can have on our health. An unbalanced microbiome can lead to sickness and a premature death, while the correct blend of bacterial strains in the body supports health and longevity. Balancing the body’s microbiome is often so life changing it could be viewed as a miracle.

I’ve seen young toddlers completely cured of severe eczema after they restored balance of their bacterial flora. I’ve seen life-long estrogen dominance issues disappear when gut microflora was corrected. I’ve seen obesity and bulimia turn around. Some of the most perplexing cases of depression and mental confusion can even be improved or resolved by rebalancing the body’s bacteria.

I’ve explained many times how bacteria, primarily in the gut but in the urinary tract as well, have evolved to become a critical part of our immune system. They produce vitamins essential to our well-being. They also produce specific chemicals that cause nerve signals to be sent to the brain via the 10th cranial nerve. Through this action, they can effectively control our appetite, food cravings, and even our mood.

Just as importantly, when their numbers are large enough, they help keep pathogenic bacteria in check. As we age and our immune system weakens, keeping pathogenic bacteria in check is essential to our survival. I recently observed firsthand with my mother just how critical this can be.

Unresolved UTIs can cause dementia

The connection between urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dementia isn’t common knowledge among the majority of doctors and health care workers. Fortunately, some nursing home professionals have started to make the connection. Still, I would be shocked if there weren’t hundreds of thousands of misdiagnosed elderly patients either being treated with antipsychotic medications and/or institutionalized because of the brain-related side effects associated with unresolved UTIs.

UTIs are fairly common, resulting in more than eight million doctor visits a year. If you’ve ever had one, most likely you remember it. The painful burning during urination and difficulty emptying the bladder certainly leave a lasting impression. Half of all women will develop a UTI during their lifetime, along with a large percentage of men. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Sex
  • Constipation (resulting in bacteria traveling from the colon to the urinary tract)
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes (high blood sugar in the urine)
  • Delayed bladder emptying (“holding it”)
  • Birth control (use of spermicides or hormone shifts caused by birth control pills)
  • Unlubricated condoms
  • Estrogen deficiency causing an alkaline pH
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Kidney infections or stones
  • Pregnancy
  • Antihistamines or drugs that decrease urination

Until recently, most UTIs could be easily cured with a round of antibiotics and by abstaining from irritants and drinking plenty of water. In about 20 percent of women, UTIs are chronic and recurring. This is usually due to an underlying bacterial imbalance.

However, UTIs have now become the second most common infection in the US, and they are becoming increasingly difficult to treat with the current antibiotics. This is another area where the problematic bacteria have adapted to the treatment (antibiotics) and have become resistant. Bacterial cultures are becoming the new norm and on far too many occasions, intravenous antibiotic drips are needed to clear the infection. What used to a take a few days to clear can now take weeks.

The chance of developing a UTI increases with age. UTIs are one of the most commonly diagnosed infections in older adults. The risk increases in individuals who are diabetic, have kidney stones, or use a catheter. Estrogen helps protect against UTIs, so postmenopausal women are also at greater risk.

UTIs account for about one-fourth of all infections in the elderly and more than one-third of all nursing home-associated infections (second only to respiratory infections). Those residing in nursing homes and senior living communities tend to have more exposure to and harbor pathogens that are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat UTIs.

UTIs in the elderly differ from those in younger people. For one, they are harder to detect. Older adults often don’t experience the telltale burning sensation. A more common indication in the elderly is the new onset of urinary incontinence. (Individuals who already have incontinence will often start to limit their fluid intake so they don’t have to urinate as often. This only increases their risk of developing an infection since it allows the bacteria to build up in the urinary tract.)

Other signs of a UTI can be even more disquieting. A sudden change in behavior is one of the best indications of a urinary tract infection. One day everything can seem normal, but the next the person may be totally confused and unable to carry out tasks easily performed a day or two before. Additional telltale signs of a UTI that often get chalked up to dementia include paranoia (often extreme), hallucinations, obsessive behavior, emotional outbursts, and inability to concentrate or logically express thoughts and feelings. If you ever notice a sudden unexplained change in behavior in an elderly individual, that person needs to be checked as quickly as possible for a UTI.

Along with behavioral changes, other indications of a UTI include falling, general discomfort, being overly tired, bloody urine, and a loss of appetite.

The higher the infection is in the urinary tract, the more dangerous it becomes. If it moves into the kidneys, a patient might begin to experience back and side pains. Older people rarely get a fever from a UTI, but if that happens, it means the infection is extremely serious and needs immediate treatment. Fever may or may not be accompanied by shaking, chills, nausea, and vomiting.

The researchers I’ve spoken with don’t completely understand why UTIs can trigger “almost instant dementia,” but they all agreed it seems to be happening more frequently than ever and the situation can quickly turn serious.

All infections, regardless of their location, create stress and place a burden on the immune system. Any form of stress, physical or emotional, only worsens the situation for anyone already suffering from dementia. Pathogenic bacteria release powerful and destructive toxins that create havoc throughout the entire nervous system.

There is no way to rid our bodies of every strain of pathogenic bacteria. The key is to keep them in check by consistently supplying the body with beneficial bacteria. Probiotics and fermented foods are more critical than ever to prevent and treat UTIs. They supply beneficial bacteria that “compete” with and crowd out pathogenic strains. I’ll say it again: A quality probiotic is one of the most important supplements you can take.

E.coli is one of the most common forms of bacteria that cause UTIs, associated with 70-95 percent of all cases. In addition to using fermented foods and probiotics, there are ways to help keep E. coli from being able to attach to the walls of the urinary tract.

Two must-haves for urinary tract health

One product most people are familiar with is cranberry. Studies have been somewhat mixed about the effectiveness of cranberry juice, probably because of the numerous varieties of juices and concentrates. Unsweetened seems to work best, but it’s expensive and harder to find.

For prevention, I prefer cranberry extract over juice or liquid concentrates. Most juices are practically void of A-type proanthocyanidin, the compound that keeps bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and urethra.

In studies involving cranberry extract capsules, roughly 400 mg once or twice a day was as effective as antibiotics at preventing UTIs.

The other compound with an action very similar to cranberry is a natural sugar called D-mannose. Like cranberry, D-mannose makes it harder for bacteria like E. coli to attach to urinary tract walls.

For active infections, two grams dissolved in a little water and taken every two to three hours for two or three days (until all symptoms have cleared) works very well. For prevention, the dosage can usually be cut back to a couple of grams daily.

Both cranberry and D-mannose can be purchased in capsules, which is great for occasional use. However, for long-term prevention, I’d suggest purchasing one or both of the powders in bulk from online retailers like BulkSupplements.com, PureBulk.com, Microingredients.com, or Mountain Maus’ Remedies.

For less than the cost of a glass of cranberry juice, you can use the bulk ingredients to make your own daily cranberry fizz for UTI prevention. Many elderly individuals find this easier to take than capsules.

Here’s my formula: Combine a few ounces of cold water with 1 teaspoon (2,000 mg) of D-mannose powder, 1/4 teaspoon (400 mg) of cranberry extract powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Stir well.

The D-mannose slightly sweetens the cranberry extract powder and the baking soda gives it a nice fizz. Feel free to adjust the amounts to your personal liking.

If you are caring for elderly loved ones or friends, be on the lookout for changes in their behavior that could be indicative of an UTI. The changes may be quite dramatic, like my mother recently experienced, or they could be subtle. In elderly adults, UTIs are not just annoying, minor infections. They can be life threatening.

About the Author

Dr. David Williams

A medical researcher, biochemist and chiropractor, Dr. David Williams has developed a reputation as one of the world's leading authorities on natural healing.

For more than 25 years, he has traveled the world uncovering natural treatments and cures for practically every major health concern today. As a result, Dr. WilliamsRead more