Seniors and Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infections, known by the abbreviation UTI, are not just a nuisance; they can also be very dangerous to your health. A urinary tract infection is caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli, that enters through the urethra of the sufferer or when the bladder does not empty completely and the bacteria multiply in the bladder or kidneys. If left untreated for a long period of time, a urinary tract infection will become something much more serious than merely a series of unpleasant symptoms. UTIs can lead to chronic kidney infections, which could possibly permanently damage the kidneys and maybe even lead to kidney failure.  They are also a leading cause of sepsis, a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

Seniors are more likely to get UTIs than any other age group.  Elderly people are more susceptible to UTIs for many reasons. One of the reasons is their overall vulnerability to any infections due to a suppressed immune system that occurs with age and a multitude of different age-related conditions. Young people tend to empty their bladder completely when urinating, which keeps bacteria from building up within the bladder. However, elderly women and men experience a weakening of the bladder muscle, which leads to urine being retained in the bladder, poor bladder emptying and incontinence, which leads to UTIs.

Typical symptoms of UTIs can include urine that appears cloudy or bloody, strong urine smell, frequent urination, pain with urinating, pressure in the lower pelvis, fever, and night sweats.  Seniors with a serious urinary tract infection do not exhibit the trademark sign of fever because their immune system is unable to show a response due to low resistance to illnesses. In fact, seniors often do not exhibit any of the usual symptoms – or do not convey them to their family. UTIs in the elderly are frequently mistaken as early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Symptoms can consist of agitation, confusion or a delirium-like state, hallucinations, dizziness, and falling. Occasionally, there are only a few symptoms of a UTI that appear in the elderly — no fever, no pain, or no other characteristic symptoms of a UTI.

Can the sudden confusion caused by a UTI be permanent? The answer to that depends on how quickly the cause can be determined. Primary caregivers of the elderly should be especially watchful for changes in the elder’s mental status, and they should contact the senior’s doctor if they observe/notice any acute confusion or abrupt worsening of existing confusion. Ruling out a UTI and other infections would be a suitable early step if an elder suddenly has become confused, or their mental state has deteriorated. Other causes of unexpected confusion and contributing factors, like dementia, should also be ruled out. Fast treatment of a characteristic UTI may prevent more serious symptoms, such as hallucinations, and other complications. It will certainly result in the seniors return to their normal mental status.

Several diseases and complications make seniors more susceptible to UTIs. Diabetes, urinary retention, use of a catheter, Bowel incontinence, an enlarged prostate in men, Immobility, and kidney stones put the elderly at a higher risk for these dangerous infections.

Preventative measures should definitely be taken to avoid a UTI. It is the best and safest approach when it comes to these infections. There are quite a few simple techniques that can help elderly patients put a stop to recurring urinary tract infections or would prevent them from developing a first time infection.

  • Provide seniors with plenty of fluids – equal to that of six to eight 8-ounce glasses – every day to cleanse their urinary system and flush out the bacteria that tends to build up.
  • Make sure they are getting the proper amount of vitamin C in their diet, either through food or supplements. Ascorbic acid or vitamin C makes urine acidic, which depresses the growth of bacteria.
  • Ensure that they use the bathroom every two to three hours. Keeping urine in your bladder for a long period of time gives bacteria a place to multiply.
  • Avoid using douches and scented feminine hygiene sprays. They will irritate the urethra.
  • For women, wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom.
  • If the senior wears briefs, change them frequently.
  • Set reminders for those who are mentally-impaired to try to use the bathroom instead of using adult briefs for long periods.

If you have a busy life along with trying to care for your aging family member urinary tract infections can be difficult to prevent and control. We at Carefect Homecare Services are able to help by providing efficient care. Qualified caregivers will help prevent UTIs and, if one occurs, remind the senior to take their medicine correctly and on time.