A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) can pop up with pain and frequent urination at any age. But for the senior population, UTIs tend to strike more often – and with much more force.
UTIs are the most common bacterial infection in elderly patients. And these aren’t your average UTIs; in seniors, they can present with very different symptoms and spread through the body more quickly, turning into dangerous kidney infections or sepsis, a deadly infection in the blood. Whether you’re a caregiver or an aging patient, understanding the nuances of UTIs in older adults is crucial for prevention, early detection, and effective treatment.
UTIs in Older Adults
A UTI occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract, typically through the urethra. They can affect any part of the urinary system, but the most common UTIs affect the bladder (cystitis). Untreated UTIs can lead to life-threatening complications, especially in the elderly.
Senior adults, especially senior women, are more prone to UTIs than other age groups. Experts aren’t sure exactly why UTIs strike in the elderly, but believe it may be due to a number of factors:
- A weakened immune system. Elderly patients may not have the immune strength to fight off the bacteria that causes infections.
- Urinary changes. As we age, the muscles in our pelvic floor and bladder tend to weaken. This can lead to incontinence (the inability to hold urine) or retention (the inability to empty the bladder), both of which contribute to UTIs.
- Catheter use. Use of catheters, common in older adults with mobility problems or during hospital stays, significantly raises the risk of UTIs.
- Postmenopausal women experience a decrease in estrogen levels, leading to changes in the vagina and urinary tract that make them more susceptible to infections.
- Prostate problems. An enlarged prostate can block the flow of urine, breeding bacteria in the bladder. This is the most common cause of UTIs in older men.
- Seniors with dementia (or another cognitive disease) may not be able to communicate their discomfort to caregivers, allowing UTIs to go untreated.
UTI Symptoms in Seniors
Most of us can spot a classic UTI, which presents symptoms like frequent urination, pain or burning when urinating, foul or cloudy-colored urine, and fever. But seniors may not experience these typical symptoms (or be able to tell you about them). Instead, they may exhibit more generalized signs such as:
- Confusion, hallucinations, or delusions
- Agitation or irritability
- Falls or balance issues
- Decreased appetite
- Sleep issues
UTI Treatments in Seniors
UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics. However, treatment in older adults requires careful consideration. Seniors in care facilities like nursing homes are at risk of drug resistance and other opportunistic infections if prescribed antibiotics. Some antibiotics may also interact with other medications commonly used by older adults.
If prescribed antibiotics, it’s vital to follow your doctor’s orders and complete the full course, even if you’re feeling better. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to flush out the bad bacteria. Over-the-counter pain relievers like phenazopyridine (Azo) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help ease burning and frequent urination.
Preventing UTIs in Seniors
You can’t fully prevent all UTIs, but you can take steps to reduce your risk of infection. Some healthy bladder habits to add into your routine include:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Avoid bladder irritants like alcohol and coffee
- Don’t “hold” your urine; go as soon as the urge strikes.
- Practice good bathroom hygiene like washing your hands and wiping front-to-back
- If you use a catheter, care for it properly and discard it when you’re done
- Change adult incontinence briefs frequently
- Get routine health exams and treat underlying conditions
UTIs don’t have to steal the joy from your golden years. By knowing what to watch for and practicing good bladder health, you can flush the fear of UTIs right down the drain. And if you or your loved one need quality intermittent catheters, contact our team at America’s Best Care Plus to learn about our urology supply program. With a range of sizes and styles from the top brands delivered right to your door, you can cruise through those senior years in comfort.