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Dealing with confusion in the elderly

Updated on October 17, 2011
No, they weren't confused - just having fun. My Dad is gone now but Mom and I speak of him often.
No, they weren't confused - just having fun. My Dad is gone now but Mom and I speak of him often. | Source

Causes of confusion in the elderly - some may surprise you

My Mom is about to turn 95 on October 28, 2011 so I've been dealing with ways to work with confusion in the elderly for about 3 years now. Up until she was 92, she was pretty sharp (and remains so - "sharp" is now a relative term...). Confusion does abound once in a while and I've found some ways to get her more centered. I'm getting pretty good at it these days and so is she.

There are many reasons for confusion in the elderly which are sort of obscure. In fact, I had to do a fair amount of internet research to figure out what the root of the confusion in my senior citizen Mom was and how to deal with it.

I'm hoping that this article will help other caregivers cut to the chase so they don't have to waste as much time as I did figuring out ways to deal with the elderly confused.

UTI prevention items on

Common causes of confusion in the elderly

I've learned along my path as a caregiver that sudden onset confusion is not necessarily a "normal" thing in the elderly.

My Mom sort of woke up confused one morning. She didn't know where she was although she's always been able to identify me and those loved ones she sees daily. But, this sudden onset confusion just was so new, we were off to the doctor immediately. Turns out that, this time, she had a UTI. That's right, a urinary tract infection can cause confusion in the elderly. Just one cause, really. A few more of the more common causes of confusion in the elderly are listed below:

  • Urinary Tract Infection. As mentioned above, my Mom had a UTI but she had no symptoms of a UTI. Normal symptoms of a UTI include burning on urination, a feeling of frequent need to urinate, sharp pain on urination.

    UTIs can be prevented with increased water consumption (8 glasses of water a day is preferable), better bathroom hygiene, and, some think, giving a bit of cranberry juice daily as cranberry juice changes the pH of the urine. There are also cranberry pills on the market which do the same thing. Look to the right to see a few examples on

For more information about UTIs, click Freedom from UTI: the real causes and cures of urinary tract infection

Additional causes of confusion in the elderly

  • Pneumonia. The last time my mom had sudden onset confusion, we landed in the hospital for 7 days while she cleared pneumonia. Once the antibiotics were in and she was rested, we went home - better, by far, than before. Her mind was so clear it made me wonder how long she'd had the pneumonia. Pneumonia in the elderly might not present with symptoms like those in younger people. There might not be coughing, sneezing, wheezing, etc. In fact, like my mom's case of pneumoia, it can be asyptomatic.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). TIAs are periods where small stoke-like symptoms occur. Typically, in the elderly, TIAs preset themselves as periods of fugue, glazed eyes, confused or slurred speech, difficulty moving, or even irritable behavor. TIAs are not preventable but they should signal a visit to the doctor eacha and every time they occur.

My gorgeous papa

My Dad used to love desserts so I created in his memory.
My Dad used to love desserts so I created in his memory. | Source

Have you dealt with confusion in the elderly? Please leave me comments.

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    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I love the pictures of your mom and dad. How sweet they are. And your information is great. Thanks so much.

    • DreamsInBloom profile image

      DreamsInBloom 6 years ago

      Wow. That's good info to know. And it actually kind of makes sense that almost any infection could cause confusion in the elderly. My mom and I both struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms and we both know that when we get sick we have a harder time thinking more clearly. And my mom is more so to get confused and tell me the same things again and again when we're sick. We've learned that those with CFS and Fibromyalgia often have a lot of nutritional deficiencies that effect mental health and that getting sick uses up nutritional reserves as well. So eating better and taking supplements help us. It's well known that the elderly often have nutritional deficiencies as we tend not to absorb nutrition as well as we age. So I can see the relation between being sick and mental confusion for the elderly too. Have you found nutritional supplementation helpful for your mother?

    • K. Burns Darling profile image

      Kristen Burns-Darling 6 years ago from Orange County, California

      Great hub with really useful information that I wish I had when I first started taking care of my father. We too battled the a-symptomatic UTI, that was only diagnosed AFTER my father was in kidney failure, and not everyone knows that ANY fever, illness, pain, or traumatic experience, be it physical or emotional, along with anesthesia, and or new pain or sleeping medication, may cause or increase the level of confusion in those with dementia, or Alzheimer's related dementia. Thanks for sharing this information, I hope that it helps many. Voted up, useful, and interesting.