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Know the Signs of Senior UTIs | Generations Home Care
An older women concerned about UTI prevention

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common illnesses that tend to affect seniors with surprising symptoms. These infections occur when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra, which is the tube that passes urine from the bladder to outside the body. This bacteria then moves through the urinary system potentially infecting the bladder, or cystitis. In less common but more serious cases, the kidneys can become infected with a condition known as pyelonephritis. The symptoms of a UTI are quite obvious for younger people, yet in older adults, UTIs may not be discovered until more severe damage has occurred. That’s why understanding the causes and symptoms of UTIs allows for quick and effective treatments. 

An undiagnosed UTI is likely to cause sudden confusion and delirium, which is often associated with dementia. For patients with existing dementia, this means the UTI can go undetected, while exacerbating existing dementia symptoms. For seniors not suffering from dementia, the confusion may present itself as an early warning sign for Alzheimer’s or dementia, leaving the UTI undetected. In either case, what could be an easily treated infection can lead to kidney damage, permanent incontinence, or potentially deadly blood poisoning. As caretakers, knowing the early signs of a urinary tract infection and seeking immediate care can alleviate potential stress and future health problems for seniors.

UTIs Are Easy to Misdiagnose in Seniors

Often older people are unable to identify changes in their bodies as signs of a UTI. One reason is that the aging immune system fails to create certain responses to infection. For example, 30%-40% of elderly patients do not present fevers as a symptom of a urinary tract infection. 

When left untreated, UTI patients will present with erratic behavior and confusion. Extreme fatigue, agitation, and hallucinations are some of the common changes in mental state. These changes will usually come on within one to two days of infection. This confusion increases in those who are cognitively impaired, depressed, or extremely dependent on care.

Seniors with dementia are at a higher risk for UTIs because of hygiene problems and incontinence. Unfortunately, seniors living with dementia have cannot always communicate their symptoms because of word-finding difficulty and a decline in language skills. Instead of the physical symptoms present in most people with UTIs, seniors with dementia will often display UTI symptoms as behavioral changes

Close friends, family, and caregivers recognize behavior changes more easily. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important for aging people to have connections with their caregivers who can catch changes in physical and cognitive functions before they become serious problems.

Older People Are More Likely to Contract UTIs

Urinary tract infections affect 10% of men and 20% of women over the age of 65. Older men and women experience a weakening of the bladder muscles, making it more difficult to empty the bladder, leading to prolonged contact with the bacteria found in urine. Other preexisting conditions that contribute to UTIs in seniors are kidney issues, diabetes, and weakened immune systems. Aging immune systems respond differently to infections. Because of these varied reactions, understanding the symptoms of a UTI can lead to a quick and clear diagnosis.

The common symptoms of UTIs are:

  • Painful urination
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Frequent urination
  • Incontinence
  • Cloudy, pink, or brownish colored urine
  • Urine with a strong odor
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Falls

UTIs Are Preventable With Care and Attention

While UTIs are a rather common health concern for older people, they can be prevented and treated with extra care and attention. Steps for prevention include:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which tend to irritate the bladder.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • For postmenopausal women, a low-dose vaginal cream will help rejuvenate the vaginal skin and promote healthy bacteria.
  • Regular prostate exams for men as enlarged prostates make it difficult for the bladder to empty fully.
  • Keep the genital area clean.  Change adult diapers frequently, if necessary. 
  • Keep home test strips available. Though these are not always accurate they are a helpful tool. As a caregiver, it is important to trust your instincts and get a test performed by a doctor if you feel symptoms are consistent with UTIs.

Regardless of a senior’s cognitive and physical wellness, the most crucial tool in advocating for their health is for caregivers to take the time to connect with those in their care. Recognizing erratic behavior and connecting the potential signals of a urinary tract infection will contribute significantly to their health. An older person with a UTI may not be able to communicate their physical and mental changes. They will rely on the attention of a caretaker to notice the signs and seek medical care.

About Generations Home Care

Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and more independent life.

Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.

Our Specialty Services Include:

  • Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
  • Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
  • Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
  • Veteran’s connection to care program.
  • Live-in services and couples care.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.


About the author - Josh Friesen

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