Urinary tract infection is one of the most common infections among the elderly and accounts for about 8.3 million doctor visits annually. Although easily treatable, UTI can get difficult to diagnose in the elderly as symptoms are often similar to those of other, more severe illnesses such as dementia. Hence, it is important to be able to distinguish UTI from other diseases to be able to treat and eliminate the infection.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection, commonly known as a UTI, is basically a bacterial infection of a part of the urinary system.
Normally, the kidneys, uterus, bladder and urethra all work in combination to eliminate urine from the body. As the kidneys remove any additional liquid and waste from the blood in the form of urine, the uterus transports the urine to the bladder which holds it until it is emptied through the urethra.
A UTI typically starts in the urethra when bacteria sticks to its opening and starts to accumulate. The infection then goes up to the uterus, into the bladder and then on to the kidneys. If left uncured, it spreads into the blood system as well, in which case it can become very dangerous for the patient.
UTI are generally much more prevalent in women as their urethra is shorter than men’s, giving bacteria easier access into the body.
Why are the Elderly More Prone to UTI?
Elderly people are generally more prone to infections due to their weakened immune systems. Also, lower energy levels paired with reduced cognitive abilities tend to reduce the level of hygiene elders might maintain, hence giving way to more bacteria that leads to infections.
Holding in bladder for too long is also a root cause of UTI as it helps foster the bacteria that spreads and turns into a UTI. Sometimes, older people are not too careful about their water intake which means their need to urinate would lower, hence resulting in urine being accumulated in the bladder for much longer. Additionally, as people age, their bladder muscles weaken, so they experience more incontinence and aren’t able to fully empty their bladders as often as they should.
Furthermore, elderly people may also suffer from illnesses that make it difficult for them to pass urine. Kidney infections, gallstones and diabetes are all examples of such ailments. When it becomes difficult to urinate, the patient tends to rely on catheters which can be difficult to keep clean, hence making it more prone to catching an infection.
If a middle-aged woman experiences burning, painful sensations when she urinates, it’s easy to guess that she has a urinary tract infection (UTI). The symptoms, however, may not be so clear among elderly.
Physically, the more conventional symptoms of UTI are frequent urination, cloudy urine, lower backache and burning pain sensations. Due to the weakening immunity of elder people, however, symptoms that are otherwise common in people generally tend to contribute towards some troublesome side effects like confusion, disorientation, dizziness and sometimes, even depression.
The best indicator of a UTI in older adults is a sudden change in behavior. If you find your elderly loved one getting confused about a task that seemed simple enough for them a few days ago, that might be a red flag indicating towards UTI.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing a UTI in an elderly patient requires a simple urinalysis that can confirm the infection. Typically, a UTI is treated through antibiotics which help eliminate the infection in a span of a few days.
However, depending on the age and condition of the patient, along with the severity of the infection, the treatment might take weeks and require the patient to be hospitalized for further examination and administration of medicines.
People suffering from UTI also need to consume high levels of liquid to flush the bacteria out of their systems. Hydration is key to keeping the bacteria from multiplying and spreading any farther.
Once a person has been cured of UTI, it is important to be even more cautious about preventing the infection from occurring again.
Firstly, make sure your elderly loved ones are consuming sufficient amounts of liquid and keeping themselves hydrated. Also, keep a urination schedule, perhaps setting up alarms to remind them to urinate regularly.
Another precaution essential for prevention is the implementation of better hygiene. Older adults should keep themselves clean and wear loose and breathable cotton underwear.
Many urologists frequently recommend regular intake of cranberry juice to avoid bacteria, especially E coli from accumulating on the bladder wall.
Provide Your Elderly Loved Ones with the Best Care
Naturally, all of us aim to take care of our loved ones in the best possible way, ensuring their health and happiness.
If you’re looking for any advice or support regarding senior placement services and memory care facilities, our assisted living consultants in the Kansas City metropolitan area would be more than happy to help.