Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common infections — especially in women and older adults. In fact, over 1 in 3 infections in seniors living in nursing homes are UTIs. While they may be uncomfortable and annoying for younger adults, they can actually pose serious health threats to seniors. And the symptoms and side effects of a UTI may be different for seniors than younger generations, making the infection difficult to identify. In this post, we will explore the symptoms of a UTI and the health risks they can pose for seniors.
What Is a UTI?
UTIs happen when bacteria enters the body through the urethra, which is the opening that carries urine from the bladder, and the immune system isn’t able to fight off the bacteria. As a result, the bacteria multiplies and can spread to the bladder and kidneys, causing an infection.
Typically, women are more susceptible to UTIs because the urethra is shorter, meaning bacteria doesn’t have to travel as far to reach the kidneys or bladder. However, seniors are also at a higher risk of a UTI because of weaker immune systems, chronic health conditions, urinary incontinence, reliance on catheters, or other factors.
UTIs can be treated with medication to kill off the bacteria. However, if left untreated, a UTI can cause kidney infections, kidney failure, sepsis, and other health problems. In fact, the infection can even spread into the bloodstream, leading to a life-threatening infection and a long road to recovery. However, with proper care and attention, many UTIs can be avoided.
What Are the Common Symptoms?
Common symptoms of a UTI infection include the following:
- Dark or cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Urine with a strong or foul smell
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Pain or burning sensation during urination
- Pressure or tenderness in the lower abdomen
- Low-grade fever
- Night sweats, shaking or chills
However, older adults may not experience any of these symptoms when they have a UTI, which can make identifying the infection difficult. This is due to the fact that seniors have weakened immune systems that aren’t able to respond to the bacterial infection as effectively. The symptoms mentioned above are actually signs that the immune system is working to fight the infection off.
Seniors have a unique set of symptoms as a result of a UTI, including the following:
- Changes in behavior
- Poor coordination, which can lead to falling
Usually, these symptoms will appear suddenly if the cause is an infection. But many of these symptoms could be symptoms of other health conditions, like dehydration, dementia, and others. They could also be normal signs of aging, which makes it difficult to identify a UTI in a senior loved one.
Another factor that seniors face with experiencing a UTI is a lack of communication with their loved ones or caregivers. Many seniors may choose not to tell others about their discomfort or simply cannot express it.
The symptoms of a UTI can also change when the infection worsens and spreads to the kidneys. These symptoms include:
- Flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Back pain
If you suspect a UTI in a client or a loved one, try to identify at least 2 symptoms because a single symptom alone may not actually indicate a UTI. Then, take the senior to their doctor, who can perform a simple urine analysis test to determine if the bacteria are present. While there are at-home UTI tests and smart diapers available, we recommend seeing a medical professional since a seemingly simple infection can have severe impacts on seniors.
How Can I Help Prevent a UTI?
Luckily, there are many things that seniors can do to help prevent UTIs. Here are a few tips:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Seniors should drink plenty of water or other fluid to help them stay hydrated. Drinking water helps flush bacteria out of the urethra and reduces the chance of developing a UTI.
- Drink cranberry juice. This is a classic home remedy to help with UTIs. And it has been scientifically proven. Cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanins (PACs), which help prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear. If a senior doesn’t experience incontinence, then this type of underwear can help reduce bacteria. Incontinence products, while effective, are associated with an increase in UTIs. If a senior needs incontinence product, make sure they change them promptly and frequently.
- Maintain good hygiene. Genital and urinary hygiene can help keep the area clean and reduce the bacteria that could cause a UTI. Generally, the area should be kept clean and dry. Women should wipe from front to back.
- Hire a professional. In some cases, your loved one may not have the ability to keep themselves clean and dry or to use the bathroom on their own. Proper in-home care can help your loved one maintain their independence while also promoting safe and healthy habits.
- Urinate often. Seniors should use the bathroom whenever they feel the urge instead of waiting for some time to pass before urinating. This can help flush out bacteria and keep it from traveling through the urethra.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Some drinks, like alcohol, coffee, acidic fruits, and caffeinated drinks can actually irritate the bladder and worsen UTI symptoms. To help keep the bladder functioning properly, try to limit or completely avoid these types of drinks.
At Caring Senior Service, our professional caregivers can help your aging loved one with these tasks to help prevent a UTI. They can also help track symptoms and monitor your loved one for signs of a UTI. Each caregiver is specially trained and receives regular training to ensure they are ready to assist seniors — whatever their needs are. To learn more about how our caregivers can help keep your loved one healthy, happy, and at home, reach out to our team of experts today!