As we get older, we can become more vulnerable to specific health conditions or illnesses. Sometimes, our aging bodies handle infections or illnesses differently than in our younger years, leaving us feeling surprised by the toll a sickness or condition takes on us. A prime example of a relatively common infection that can cause serious problems when we are older? Urinary tract infections.
Prevalence of Urinary Tract Infections
Anyone, of any age, can get a urinary tract infection. However, older adults are more vulnerable to this common infection. The Cleveland Clinic reports that 10% of women over the age of 65 have at least one urinary tract infection, or UTI, each year. By the age of 85, 30% of women report having at least one UTI annually. Hormones are the primary culprit for the higher risk in women.
But it’s not just women who are at risk for urinary tract infections. Older men are also prone to getting UTIs due to an enlarged prostate. Other key factors that can contribute to an increased risk of UTI include having diabetes or using a catheter. Being incontinent can also increase the risk.
Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Older Adults
Urinary tract infections typically present with pain during urination as well as increased urgency or frequency. These symptoms appear in older adults, too, in addition to:
- Pain in the lower back area, or abdomen
- Feeling tired or listless
Perhaps one of the most unique side effects of a UTI in an older adult is acute, or sudden, confusion. While not every older adult with a UTI will experience confusion, the risk increases with age.
Complications of Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but there can be additional challenges and complications that come with a UTI for older adults. For example, the sudden urgency of needing to go to the bathroom can increase the risk of falling. The older adult will often need to rush to stand up and walk to the closest bathroom, forgoing using their mobility aid or taking precautions to feel balanced and steady.
In addition to an increased risk of falling, older adults with a UTI can also lead to kidney infections and sepsis infections more quickly than in younger people. Weakened immune systems can lead to a UTI spreading faster and causing more complications.
Of course, confusion can also lead to complications. Family members might be anxious about the new confusion, and sometimes older adults with a UTI can be suspected of having a stroke. This can mean the correct treatment takes longer, leaving the person in pain for longer.
Preventing Urinary Tract Infections in Seniors
There are some steps you can take to decrease the risk of urinary tract infections in yourself or your older loved one:
- Drink plenty of water each day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can irritate the urinary tract.
- Practice good urinary tract hygiene, especially if you use incontinence products or pads.
- Talk to your physician about adding preventative supplements, like cranberry, to your daily vitamin regimen.
Family caregivers should stay vigilant and watch for signs of a urinary tract infection, including pain, fever, confusion, and changes to urinary habits. Early signs can lead to early treatment, which can prevent more serious complications.
At CaringGivers, our caregivers are trained to observe and document any changes that might be related to urinary tract infections or other conditions. We are sure to follow up as appropriate, assist the senior with treatment protocols from their physician, and instill good habits that will help to prevent infections from happening in the future.