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Senior UTI – Do you know the symptoms?

Belvederee Home Care UTI main.jpgUrinary tract infections, or UTIs, are the most common bacterial infection in older adults, affecting women more often than men.

UTIs can typically be treated effectively with antibiotics once diagnosed. Unfortunately, not all UTIs are treated quickly, and some aren't even identified, particularly in seniors.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection in the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters and the urethra which carries urine out of the body.  They are most commonly caused by bacteria but can also be a fungal infection.

A lower UTI is a common infection, affecting the lower part of the urinary tract, the urethra and urinary bladder. Infection of the urethra is urethritis while a bladder infection is cystitis. An upper UTI affects the kidneys.

What causes a UTI?

A typical bacterial UTI is caused by bacteria, often fecal bacteria, entering the urethra through the urethral opening where urine is released from the body. Usually, the body can fight off these bacteria and prevent infection. However, if the immune system is too weak, the bacteria multiply, causing infection.

Fungal UTIs usually stem from fungus in the bloodstream. Fungal UTIs are relatively uncommon, impacting mainly those with illnesses that compromised their immune system.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

When typical, healthy adults get a UTI, the symptoms are usually easy to identify, and the infection is simple to diagnose:

  • Frequent, urgent need to urinate
  • Painful or burning urination
  • A constant feeling of a full bladder
  • Pressure or pain in your abdomen or lower back
  • Dark, cloudy or thick urine

If left untreated, a person may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Pain in the lower to mid back where your kidneys are located

Are UTI symptoms different for seniors?

However, typical UTI symptoms like burning and frequent urination often do not appear in seniors -- or they may be too subtle for family caregivers to notice. Seniors experiencing UTIs can show a sudden change in behavior and symptoms that may  appear to be associated with cognitive issues, such as:

  • Frequent falls
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

These symptoms may be interpreted as signs of aging, but if there is a sudden change in abilities, behaviors or disposition, it may be an undiagnosed UTI.

What makes seniors more vulnerable to a UTI?

UTIs appear more frequently in people who have health conditions more common to seniors such as diabetes, catheter usage, incontinence, immobility or kidney stones. Seniors can easily become dehydrated, which can acan contribute to more frequent UTIs. Women who have gone through menopause are also more likely to get at UTI.

How do you treat a UTI in seniors?

If you suspect a UTI, your healthcare provider can perform urinalysis or other tests to confirm the diagnosis and then prescribe antibiotics if needed.

How can UTIs be prevented in seniors?

A few simple steps and healthier habits can cut down the frequency of senior UTIs.

Women should always wipe from front to back, moving any bacteria away from the urethral opening. Caregivers should also follow these protocols.

Urinary catheters should be inserted in the cleanest possible environment and protected from contamination.

Make sure seniors stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to help flush bacteria from the urethra.

What if a UTI goes untreated?

An untreated UTI can spread to the kidneys, which is a more severe infection. UTIs can also lead to sepsis, which can be fatal. UTIs cause more than half the cases of urosepsis among older adults.

Some seniors might not feel comfortable bringing up the symptoms of discomfort to caregivers or loved ones, or they may not experience any urinary symptoms, so it's important to be aware of and watch for the UTI symptoms specific to seniors.

A UTI left undiagnosed - or misdiagnosed as symptoms of dementia or aging -- can be extremely harmful to a senior's health. Keep watch for the signs of senior UTIs to help protect their overall health.