UTIs and the Elderly: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

As we grow older and our bodies change, previously minor medical hurdles can become harder to prevent, identify and treat.  Near the top of this list are Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), which are caused when bacteria builds up in a person’s urinary system (bladder, kidneys and urethra).  This condition can impact men and women, causing extreme discomfort and possibly resulting in kidney failure or sepsis if left untreated.

Why are the elderly more prone to UTI’s?

UTIs are more common among older people for several reasons, including having weakened immune systems that cannot fight off infections.  Some seniors also experience a weakening of the muscles in their bladder and pelvic floor, increasing urine retention and the risk of infection.  Lastly, a decreased sensitivity to thirst and complications arising from incontinence can put seniors at heightened risk.

Common UTI Symptoms

  • Urine that appears cloudy or dark
  • Bloody urine
  • Strong or foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Feelings of pressure in the lower pelvis
  • Low-grade fever
  • Night sweats, shaking or chills

Senior-Specific UTI Symptoms

Most of the more common, easily noticed UTI symptoms are caused by the body’s immune system reacting to the infection, however a senior’s weakened immune system means these reactions might be much harder to detect.

As a result, caregivers might only notice the signs of a possible UTI after the infection has become more severe, and many of these more dramatic symptoms can easily be mistaken for early signs of dementia. These symptoms include:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Other unusual behavioral changes
  • Poor motor skills or loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Falling

What to Do if You Suspect a UTI

With early detection and a physician’s help, UTIs can be addressed quickly and easily. Be sure to contact your physician as soon as you suspect a possible UTI, or seek assistance at an urgent care clinic if an appointment cannot be booked in a timely manner.

UTI Prevention

UTIs can be minimized or altogether avoided with a few simple lifestyle choices:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (2 to 4 quarts of water each day unless this conflicts with a physician’s orders).
  • Drink cranberry juice or use cranberry tablets, but NOT if your elder has a personal or family history of kidney stones.
  • Avoid or at least limit caffeine and alcohol intake, which irritates the bladder.
  • Always wipe from front to back (for women).
  • Wear breathable cotton underwear and change them at least once a day.
  • Consider setting a regular timer for memory impaired or incontinent senior so they remember to use the bathroom regularly.

The team at SelectCare Home Care Services of NY hopes that you find this article useful. We all face new challenges every day as we age, but no one needs to face them alone.  SelectCare has spent more than 30 years helping New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes.

To learn more about SelectCare and how we can help you or a loved one, call SelectCare today or request a free in-home care guide.