Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are annoyances for anyone who experiences them, but for seniors, this common infection can be especially concerning. Not only can the symptoms be more severe in older people, but they can also lead to serious health complications or even death if not promptly diagnosed and treated.
Seniors are More Susceptible to UTIs
UTIs affect those of all ages, but seniors are especially vulnerable. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) says that weakened immune systems may be one cause, although there are a host of other reasons why seniors get an unfair share of these infections. No matter the cause, quickly diagnosing the issue and beginning proper treatment is essential to prevent other serious complications such as permanent kidney damage or sepsis.
Typical Symptoms of a UTI
According to Medical News Today, a UTI is a bacterial or fungal infection that sets up in part of the urinary system. This system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. For many, the first sign of a UTI is the increased need or urge to urinate. Other symptoms include:
- Burning, stinging, or pain when urinating
- Inability to fully empty the bladder
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, hip, or back
- Blood in the urine
- Extreme tiredness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Chills or night sweats
Seniors May Show Other Symptoms When a UTI is Present
In addition to the troublesome symptoms that typically appear, older adults may exhibit additional behaviors that point to an underlying urinary tract infection. Cognitive changes including forgetfulness, restlessness, agitation, social withdrawal, or even hallucinations can be attributed to a UTI. Physicians aren’t exactly sure why this happens to older adults, but one possibility is that blood vessels leading to the brain become weakened with age and may contribute to these troublesome neurological effects.
Why Do Older Adults Get UTI’s More Often?
There are a few reasons why older adults suffer more frequently from urinary tract infections. First, older residents may not be able to adequately clean themselves after a bowel movement, which introduces bacteria such as E.Coli, that is present in stool.
For those who must wear catheters, the chance of infection is especially high because bacteria or fungi are introduced into the urinary tract every time a catheter must be changed, or if it is left in place too long without proper cleaning and replacement.
Seniors more often also suffer from medical or physical conditions that often go hand-in-hand with urinary tract infections. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) identify the following additional conditions that can make seniors more likely to suffer from a urinary tract infection:
- Kidney stones
- Weakened bladder or muscles in the pelvic floor
- Urinary or bowel incontinence
- Prostate enlargement or cancer
- Incidence of prior surgery in or around the bladder and/or kidneys
Older Women are More Susceptible to UTIs
Older women are also more prone to urinary tract infections than are their male counterparts, partly due to basic anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra, which allows bacteria to more easily reach the urinary tract where infections set in.
The hormonal changes that occur throughout a woman’s life, especially after menopause, are another reason why women often suffer from UTIs more often. In addition, the vaginal pH can be out of balance in post-menopausal women, which in turn leads to infections in the urinary tract.
Treatment for UTIs in Older Adults
The best treatment for a urinary tract infection is to take steps that help prevent one in the first place. For those living in senior residential settings, that means having a care team that remains attentive to the higher risk and taking action to prevent them. Some preventive measures include:
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking lots of fluids (but avoiding caffeine and alcohol)
- Use care during catheter changes to reduce the risk of infection
- Maintain good bathroom habits such as wiping from front to back
- Change out incontinence pads or underwear as soon as they become soiled or wet
- Opt for cotton underwear in place of synthetic fabrics
- Take showers instead of baths
When an infection does occur, it is highly important to catch it early and treat it promptly either with a course of oral or intravenous antibiotics. Cleveland Clinic’s Urological & Kidney Institute reports that the hardest part is often connecting the dots between physical symptoms in older adults and the presence of UTIs. Many times these infections remain undiagnosed, leading to more severe problems if left untreated.
Lighthouse Senior Living cares about the wellbeing of its residents and is continually on the lookout for any medical issue including UTIs that might affect the health and wellness of individuals in our care. To visit our community, contact us to schedule a virtual or in-person tour. We are conveniently located in Columbia-Ellicott City and Essex-Middle River.