Dementia and Infections

February 23, 2015
Soreness can be a sign of infection. (Image courtesy marin/

Soreness can be a sign of infection. (Image courtesy marin/

As those who tend to those with dementia already know, the condition can have consequences that extend beyond memory loss. One of the most common issues with which caregivers must contend is that a person with dementia, especially in the later stages of the disease, may not be able to properly communicate about health issues such as infections.

When a typical adult gets a cut or develops a sore, he or she likely knows what to do about the problem.  Often, however, a person with dementia may ignore the irritation and neglect to bring it to the attention of a caregiver.  In other instances, the dementia sufferer may try to let a caregiver know about a problem, but may lack the communication skills necessary to adequately express the exact nature of the problem, leaving both the caregiver and patient feeling frustrated and agitated.

Do a daily check

Caregivers should try to perform thorough daily checks for cuts, scrapes, infections, swelling, and inflammations.  This can take time, but it is worth it.

Look for signs

Sometimes an infection may not be obvious; however, there are signs for which a caregiver can stay on the lookout.  These include:

  • Fever
  • Pain/discomfort
  • Reluctance to eat/loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Crying/irritability
  • Loss of balance
  • Fatigue or apathy
  • Cloudy, dark, or odor-filled urine
  • Diarrhea

Some people care for individuals who may already regularly exhibit high degrees of irritability and restlessness.  In such instances, it is necessary to keep things in perspective. Caregivers usually know what “normal” is for their patients, but sometimes even the most experienced caregivers may struggle to determine whether simple peevishness or an infection is responsible for patient reactions.

Treat simple symptoms

While you should consult a doctor if you believe that your senior loved one is suffering from an infection, you may be able to treat simple symptoms at home.  For example, ibuprofen may help to control a fever or general achiness.

Work with the doctor

Caregivers may need to take extra steps to explain to the doctor why they believe that an infection may be present. Be sure to outline the facts in as clear and precise a manner as possible, including why the behavior exhibited is different than normal.

If the doctor prescribes a treatment that you believe may be difficult for you patient to take, discuss possible alternatives (e.g., a liquid rather than a pill) that might make administering the medication easier and, therefore, more likely to be effective.

Those with dementia often suffer from infections without knowing why they suffer.  Keeping an eye out for symptoms and seeking early treatment can help you to avoid undue stress, anxiety, and pain.

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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