7 Things to Know About Elderly UTI

More than half of American women are intimately aware of the symptoms of a urinary tract infection. A woman suffering from a UTI feels a burning when she urinates. Even if she feels an intense need to urinate, there may be very little urine that comes out when she tries. The urine that is produced may be dark colored and have a peculiar smell. Once a woman has a UTI once or twice, she can usually diagnose the infection quickly upon having the symptoms and immediately head to the doctor’s office to receive the medicine.

elderly uti

As we age, the signs of a UTI may change. If you are a caregiver for an elderly family member, it is a good idea to know the signs of a urinary tract infection for an elderly patient.

1. Older individuals are more likely to have a UTI than younger people.

Older people are more likely to get infections than younger people since they have a suppressed immune system. We are also more likely to get UTIs as we age because the bladder muscles become weaker over time. Weak bladder muscles mean that we are not able to empty our bladders as wholly. Stagnant urine in the bladder can become a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause UTIs. In fact, UTIs are so typical for elderly patients that one study has shown that over one-third of the infections treated in nursing homes are infections of the urinary tract.

2. Older people may or may not show classic signs of having a UTI.

Classic symptoms of a UTI include a burning around the urethra, pelvic pain, a frequent need to urinate, fever, chills and dark colored urine with a strange odor. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia, he or she may be unable to articulate those symptoms. Other non-classic UTI symptoms that you need to be on the lookout for include confusion, incontinence, agitation, lethargy, falls, decreased mobility, and a reduced appetite. If the infection spreads to the kidneys, you may notice that your loved one is experiencing flushed skin, back pain, and a fever. You may incorrectly assume that your loved one has some form of flu since a kidney infection may also come with nausea or vomiting.

While the medical community is aware that older people may display confusion if they have UTIs, this does not mean that a confused senior citizen certainly has one. Studies are showing now that often time confusion in older adults is caused by dehydration rather than a UTI. Before jumping the gun and assuming that your loved one has a UTI, you might begin treating his or her symptoms with a large glass of water. See if the confusion goes away after our loved one becomes appropriately hydrated.

3. Diagnosing a UTI infection in older adults may be tricky to do.

Since the symptoms of a UTI can mimic so many other illnesses, it may be difficult to diagnose a UTI in older adults. Because of this, if your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to ask your doctor to send out a urine sample of your family member’s to a lab to check for the bacteria that cause a UTI. At-home tests that can check for UTIs should not be used on older adults since bacteria are often in the urine of older people. This may cause you to get a false positive for a UTI.

4. For older adults, having bacteria in the urine does not mean that he or she has a UTI.

As mentioned early, older people tend to have bacteria in the urine. These bacteria may or may not cause a UTI. Sometimes the bacteria can be corrected by having your loved one drink more water. Treating a person with antibiotics every time there are bacteria in the urine may lead to antibiotic resistance and make UTIs harder to manage in the future.

5. Knowing if your loved one is susceptible to having a UTI may be helpful.

If your loved one has diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease, he or she may be more susceptible to having a UTI. Your loved one may also be more likely to develop a UTI if he or she has a history of UTIs, dementia, or a prolapsed bladder. If your family member wears incontinence briefs or uses a catheter, he or she is also more likely to develop an infection. Women who are postmenopausal may have an increased risk of developing a UTI because of an estrogen deficiency. Estrogen wards off the bacteria that cause UTIs. Men who have had a bladder stone, kidney stone, or an enlarged prostate may be more likely to have a UTI as well.

6. You can help lower the likelihood of your loved one developing a UTI.

Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic fluids. This may be difficult to do since as we age our bodies do not experience thirst as frequently. Also, if your loved one has mobility issues, he or she may avoid drinking so as not to have to visit the restroom as often. Keep reminding your loved one to drink plenty of water and make sure he or she has access to it 24 hours a day. If he or she doesn’t enjoy water, try a variety of healthy non-caffeinated drinks that may perk the interest of your family member.

If your loved one wears incontinence briefs, make sure they are changed frequently.

Encourage your loved one to urinate frequently.

Remind your female family member to wipe from the front to the back.

Even though some studies dispute the use of cranberries to promote urinary tract health if you loved one enjoys cranberry juice and is not on a low-sugar diet, encourage him or her to drink it.

7. UTIs can be dangerous for older adults.

Most of the time when caught early, urinary tract infections can be treated with oral antibiotics. In some cases, UTIs can spread to the kidneys or into the bloodstream. If this happens, your loved one may require antibiotics through an IV. This type of infection may take weeks to clear up and may be deadly.

Being the caregiver for an aging loved one can be stressful. Your elderly patient may display symptoms that are concerning, but sometimes a simple trip to the doctor’s office can be challenging to manage if your loved one has a difficult time walking. Your stress may be especially amplified if you don’t have any background in the medical industry.

There are resources out there to help you with your aging loved one. Home health agencies are available that can send people to your home to help your loved one perform daily tasks. If your loved one has frequent UTIs, you might consider hiring someone to come in to help manage the urinary health of your family member. Whether he or she has a catheter or wears an adult incontinence product, you may feel more comfortable having a professional check in on your loved one periodically to offer an expert opinion on when it is time to go to the doctor or when it is time just to give your loved one a large glass of water.