If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know how uncomfortable and inconvenient they are. But, they’re more than just that for seniors – they often lead to serious health problems.
A UTI(urinary tract infection) occurs when bacteria in the kidneys, bladder, or urethra multiply in the urine. An untreated UTI can lead to chronic kidney infections, which often damage the kidneys permanently and can ultimately lead to kidney failure.
UTIs are also a leading cause of sepsis – a potentially life-threatening response to an infection.
Why are the elderly so vulnerable to urinary tract infections?
There are many reasons seniors are more vulnerable than the general population. Gerontologists often cite a weakened immune system, which is a part of normal aging.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), these situations and 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, which allows bacteria to travel more easily to the bladder.
What are the typical symptoms of a UTI?
The symptoms most often seen with a senior with a UTI are:
- 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; the immune system of some is 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 these symptoms are also an indicator:
- Confusion or delirium
- Other unusual behavioral changes
- Poor motor skills or loss of coordination
There are often only acute functional or behavioral changes in the elderly, making it vital for family caregivers to watch for these sudden changes in mental state and behavior.
How can urinary tract infections in the elderly 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
- Setting timers/reminders for seniors who are memory impaired to try and use the toilet instead of an adult brief.
Treating UTIs in the elderly
If you suspect your loved one has a urinary tract infection, have them see their doctor as soon as possible to avoid further complications. In case, you don’t get an immediate appointment, an urgent care clinic is an alternative. If caught early, a course of antibiotics will often quickly eliminate the infection.
Need help keeping an eye on an aging loved one’s health?
As a premier home care provider serving Orange County, Long Beach, Mission Viejo, and surrounding communities, CHCS has been providing peace of mind to those we serve for over 25 years. To learn more now about our award-winning home care services or to schedule a FREE in-home care assessment for a senior in our service area today, please visit us at www.colonialhomecareservices.com.