When most people hear the term urinary tract infection, or UTI, they don't automatically think of a life-threatening illness. In fact, UTIs are seen as very non-threatening health issue that bears no more seriousness than the common cold. This is because most individuals are only familiar with the UTIs that impact younger adults. When a middle-age woman has one of these infections, she may not even get an official diagnosis, she may have pain when urinating and she will likely drink cranberry juice until the rather mild symptoms subside.
However, for seniors, the term urinary tract infection has a whole other meaning. It carries much more weight and it is much more serious than a common ailment that is treated in a matter of days. Urinary tract infections are not only increasingly common in the senior community, but they come with very serious side effects as well and if untreated they can have even more serious consequences for today's seniors.
Our bodies tend to change as we grow older, and our immune systems also change in the way that they react to infections and illnesses. Unfortunately for many seniors today, the way the way an elderly immune system reacts to urinary tract infections is much different than the way a young immune system will react to the same type of infection. This type of infection can impact virtually any senior in any situation, whether they are receiving home care, getting treatment at a hospital or living in an assisted living community.
One of the best things that seniors and their loved ones can do when it comes to understanding UTIs in seniors is to know the warning signs, symptoms and treatment of this common type of infection so that they may recognize a UTI when it occurs and get the treatment needed as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms of UTIs in Seniors
It is very important to remember that the symptoms displayed when a young adult has a UTI are typically very different from the symptoms that a senior has when experiencing a urinary tract infection.
One of the most common differences and one of the most prevalent signs of a UTI in elderly adults is actually a change in behavior. This can be both a subtle change or a major change. Whether it is an increase in falls, aggression, confusion, issue with going to the bathroom, memory loss or a decrease in appetite, all of these behavioral change could actually be signs of an undiagnosed UTI.
While UTIs are among the most common types of infections in adults today, they are actually more severe than many individuals realize. A UTI although common, is still an infection, which means it places stress in the body, which can cause these abrupt changes in behavior. For seniors who are already struggling with serious cognitive illnesses such as Alzheimer's, dementia or Parkinson's, the behavior changes brought on by UTIs can only seem more severe as they can make the side effects of these disorders worse temporarily until the issue is treated.
Other symptoms of a UTI include:
- General discomfort
- Issues urinating
- Pain when urinating
- Pain in the pelvic region even when not urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Back and side pain
- Strong smelling urine
- The inability to do everyday tasks
- Fullness in the rectum for men
While some seniors may indicate they have pain or discomfort while urinating as a sign there is a UTI forming, many times these behavior changes are the number one indicator that a problem is forming. It is also important to note that many of the symptoms of UTIs in seniors can mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, so all seniors experiencing these signs and signals should look to rule out a UTI first before jumping to more serious conclusions.
Prevention of UTIs in the Elderly
Urinary tract infections are the second most common type of bacteria infection among adults today. It can be very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of UTIs in elderly patients, with a large percentage of seniors in nursing homes today finding themselves diagnosed with these infections. Proper nutrition and drinking plenty of fluids can go a long way in helping seniors prevent the onset of UTIs, but this isn’t the only step in preventing these infections from happening. The good news is there are a few steps that seniors can take in order to prevent the onset of UTIs.
- Taking cranberry supplements. This can go a long way in preventing UTIs and kidney issues. Drinking a glass of 100% cranberry juice can also help prevent UTIs from forming.
- Using douches and other feminine hygiene items. Many times, poor feminine hygiene is the number one cause of UTIs in the elderly.
- Cleaning the genitals regularly. This is extremely important for seniors who wear adult diapers.
- Drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can easily cause a UTI issue, especially among adults who drink fluids that tend to irritate the bladder, such as caffeine or alcohol.
While these steps won't necessarily guarantee that a senior won't get a UTI they can lessen the chances of any senior developing this type of infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
While a senior UTI can come with a number of scary side effects, the good news is, there are a number of treatments available that can get this common issue under control. When a senior is experiencing the symptoms of a UTI, they need to visit the doctor right away for diagnosis. Typically, with a urine test, blood test, ultrasound or even an x-ray, most doctors can determine whether their senior patient has a UTI or not.
In most situations, a round of antibiotics is given in order to treat the UTI, while some seniors may have to start changing their catheter routine, start new hygiene practices or even take additional medications in order to get their UTI under control. Typically, treatments are administered to seniors as outpatients and last between 10 to 14 days. Typically, symptom relief can be felt within the first 48 hours. In some more serious cases, a senior may need to be hospitalized overnight or use an IV in order to rehydrate the body while administering antibiotics.
The most important thing to remember is that UTIs are treatable, and many times the serious side effects, including the behavior changes associated with this condition will subside quickly after the right treatment is administered.