Our immune systems take center stage for fighting urinary tract infections (UTI), which are treatable in most any stage—if you catch them. People who are young and healthy have the edge over the elderly because their immune systems are typically healthy and active. The effects of aging can make urinary tract infections in the elderly harder to detect and harder to cure.
When the elderly can’t communicate their discomfort, a urinary tract infection in seniors can cause serious health problems—in men and in women. [i]
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How Does a Urinary Tract Infection in Seniors Start?
UTI symptoms in the elderly begin when bacteria enters the urinary tract.
Several conditions can cause bacteria to enter the body. [ii] Many elderly people have weakened bladder muscles, causing incontinence, which can lead to bacteria in the urinary tract. Bladder prolapse, which is a condition where the bladder drops down, makes it difficult for a senior’s body to empty the bladder completely. The remaining urine left inside the bladder makes conditions right for bacteria to multiply.
UTI symptoms in the elderly often start immediately after a hospitalization if a senior needed to have a catheter inserted during the hospital stay. Hospitals do their best to keep people and equipment sanitary, but hospitals have germs hiding everywhere from other patients. Any time an objected gets inserted into the body there is risk of infection.
Bacteria called enterococci or staphylococci are usually the culprits that cause a urinary tract infection in seniors. These types of bacteria multiply quickly. As people age, their immune systems don’t work as effectively as they did when they were young. As a result, the elderly’s immune systems can’t keep up with fighting the infection.
A urinary tract infection in seniors doesn’t discriminate between men and women. It’s common for elderly men to have problems with their prostate. An enlarged prostate can partially block the urinary tract and cause bacteria to grow. Hormonal changes in women during menopause allow bacteria to grow because of the lack of estrogen.
Many other medical conditions can cause a urinary tract infection in seniors like diabetes, immobility, poor hygiene, complications from medicines, and problems emptying the bladder completely.
Recognizing UTI Symptoms in the Elderly
The most important thing for senior caregivers to know about UTI symptoms in the elderly is that some seniors may not be able to verbally communicate that they are in pain. [iii]
UTI symptoms in the elderly may appear as agitation, hallucinations, poor motor skills, falling, or dizziness.
Physical symptoms of a urinary tract infection in the elderly include:
- Burning pain
- Frequent urination
- Bloody urine
- Pressure in the lower pelvis
- Low-grade fever
- Night sweats, shaking, or chills
- Strong or foul-smelling urine
How to Treat a Urinary Tract Infection in the Elderly
The first thing you should do if you suspect a urinary tract infection in the elderly is to schedule a check-up with the elder’s physician. Most times, urinary tract infections won’t go away on their own, especially with a senior who has a weakened immune system.
A physician will probably prescribe an antibiotic medication. Elderly people usually need to take them a bit longer than younger people to get rid of the infection completely. Encourage the elder to drink lots of water, which will help clean out the urinary tract.
Some Final Precautions About Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly
Attend to urinary tract infections in the elderly as soon as you notice symptoms. Be extra aware if seniors are immobile and can’t take care of themselves. UTI symptoms can become quite painful rather quickly. A urinary tract infection in seniors can become quite serious and may become life-threatening if left untreated.
Urinary tract infections in the elderly can cause major problems with the kidneys. Infections can lead to acute or chronic kidney infections. Bacteria that remains in the body for too long can cause permanent damage to the kidneys or other organs. Serious urinary tract infections in the elderly can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection in the blood.
Senior caregivers need to be alert for any potential physical or behavioral changes in the elderly which could signal the start of a urinary tract infection. UTI’s are far easier to treat in the early stages of the infection.