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5 Things You Should Know About UTIs in Seniors

By Rhonda Scarbrough

If you have an aging parent, grandparent, auntie, uncle, or close personal friend that you care for or look after, then chances are they have had a urinary tract infection, otherwise referred to as a UTI.

Just the sound of hearing that they may have an infection can cause all kinds of panic alarms to go off, especially if this is the first time you have heard of it.

Here are five things you should know about UTIs:

1) UTIs are pretty common as we age. A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial or fungal infection in the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra. UTIs are very common infections. For a woman, her chances of getting a urinary tract infection, are very high; like 1 in 2 women in their lifetime will have one — with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years on end. Reason being is that for females their urethra is shorter resulting in the bacteria traveling a shorter distance to reach the bladder. Although a UTI is one of the most common infections in women, it is rare in men. UTIs are estimated to affect around 3 percent of men worldwide each year. When a UTI develops in men, it is usually considered complicated and more likely to spread to the kidneys and upper urinary tract. To add to that, if the man or woman is residing in a nursing home they are more likely to contract a UTI as it is the second most frequent infection in long-term care facilities and the most common cause of hospitalization for bacterial infection because of their weakened immune systems.

2) UTIs are usually accompanied by a strong, foul odor. While the odor of urine can vary somewhat, in most cases, it does not have a strong smell. The presence of bacteria in the urine, can affect the appearance and smell of urine. When there is an infection in the urinary tract, the urine may take on a foul-smelling odor as well as appear cloudy or bloody. Many UTI occurrences are due to E. coli, a type of bacteria that is commonly present in stool and can enter the urinary system through the urethra. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick causing diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other illnesses.

3) UTI symptoms in seniors include changes in behavior, such as, confusion, restlessness, hallucinations, social withdrawal, and agitation. Other symptoms include a fever, worsening urinary frequency or urgency, sudden pain with urination, or tenderness in the lower abdomen.

4) UTIs can lead to serious complications. UTIs are common but they can potentially lead to severe complications without treatment. An untreated UTI can spread to the kidneys and cause kidney damage or disease. Another complication of a UTI is sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition in which the infection spreads to the bloodstream and then throughout the body. Untreated sepsis can lead to septic shock and eventually death.

5) UTIs are treated with antibiotics intravenously over several days. The standard treatment for a UTI is antibiotics, which kill the bacteria causing the infection. It is essential that the antibiotic be taken as prescribed for the duration of the prescription, even if the individual begins to feel better. Completing the entire prescription will help to destroy all of the infectious bacteria.

As common as UTIs are, necessary steps can be taken to prevent them, especially for those that are aging, are in a nursing facility, OR have weakened immune systems.

Methods include:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • wiping from front to back after urination
  • promptly changing incontinence pads or underwear when wet