Anyone who has ever had urinary tract infections (UTI) knows what an inconvenience they are. But, they’re more than just that for seniors because they often lead to serious health problems.
A UTI occurs when bacteria in the bladder, urethra, or kidneys multiply in the urine. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to chronic kidney infections, so often damaging the kidneys permanently and potentially leading to kidney failure.
UTIs are also a leading cause of sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening response to an infection.
1. Why are seniors so vulnerable to urinary tract infections?
There are many reasons seniors are more vulnerable to urinary tract infections than the general population. A weakened immune system, which is a part of normal aging, is often cited by gerontologists.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these conditions also make seniors more susceptible to UTIs:
- Urine retention (weakening of the bladder can lead to incontinence or incomplete emptying of the bladder)
- Use of a urinary catheter
- Bowel incontinence (E. coli are often found in the stool)
- Urinary incontinence
- Enlarged prostate
- Immobility (often occurs with those who must lie in bed for extended periods)
- Surgery of any area around the bladder
- Kidney stones
Women are more prone to UTIs because their urethras are much shorter, allowing bacteria to travel more easily to the bladder.
2. What are the typical symptoms of a UTI?
The symptoms most often seen with a senior with a UTI are as follows:
- Dark or cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Strong or foul-smelling urine
- Pain or burning during urination
- Urgent or frequent need to urinate
- Low-grade fever
- Feelings of pressure in the lower abdomen
- Shaking, chills, or night sweats
These symptoms don’t appear in all seniors; some have a robust enough immune system to ward them off.
Unseen symptoms can also be caused by chemical changes that lead to a marked shift in the mental state of the senior (often mistaken for the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease), according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
The sudden onset of the following symptoms are also indicators of a UTI in seniors:
- Confusion or delirium
- Other unusual behavioral changes
- Poor motor skills or loss of coordination
There are often only acute behavioral and/or functional changes in the elderly, making it crucial for family caregivers to watch for these sudden changes in mental state and behavior.
3. How can UTIs be prevented?
Personal hygiene and lifestyle changes can significantly reduce seniors’ risk of developing a UTI. They include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids (two to four quarts of water per day if okayed by their physician)
- Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol (bladder irritants) altogether.
- Not using feminine hygiene products
- Thoroughly wiping after toileting
- Wearing, and changing daily, breathable cotton underwear
- It is better to set timers/reminders for seniors who are memory impaired and try and use the toilet instead of an adult brief.
Treating urinary tract infections in the elderly
If you suspect your loved one has a urinary tract infection, see a doctor as soon as possible to avoid further complications. If you can’t get an immediate appointment with their primary care physician, an urgent care clinic is a good alternative. A course of antibiotics most often quickly eliminates the infection if caught early.
Concerned about how a loved one is doing? We can help!
If you’re concerned about a loved one’s health, one of our caregivers can help! Adultcare Assistance Homecare is a locally owned (non-franchise) Arizona-focused company, serving seniors in the greater Phoenix, Tucson, and Sun City areas. Agency owner Krystal Wilkinson has served as the president of the Arizona Chapter of the Home Care Association of America.
Contact us today and learn about our services and our rates. If you’re not 100% satisfied after giving our caregivers a try for a few hours, You can cancel anytime as there are no long-term contracts.