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Urinary Tract Infections & Older Adults

Staying Healthy
A senior Asian woman drinks a large glass of water.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common, accounting for more than 8 million doctor visits every year. People with limited mobility, suppressed immune systems, or urinary tract blockages due to an enlarged prostate or kidney stones are also at high risk. These infections are easily cured with antibiotics, but untreated UTIs can lead to such serious conditions as kidney infection or sepsis. And older adults often don’t show classic — or even any — symptoms. It’s important for caregivers to know what to look for.

UTI Symptoms in Older Adults

Classic UTI symptoms include cloudy, bloody, or strong-smelling urine; a frequent or urgent need to urinate; pain or burning with urination; low-grade fever; night sweats; and cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen.

The single best sign of a UTI in an older person is often a sudden behavioral change.

However, because of their aging immune systems, seniors may not display any of these classic symptoms. So caregivers should also be on the lookout for any abrupt changes in a person’s behavior, such as loss of energy or appetite, or the inability to get dressed. Also watch for:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor motor skills
  • Dizziness
  • Falling
  • Sudden urinary incontinence

If you see any of these signs or symptoms in your loved one, call their doctor right away.

How to Prevent UTIs in Older Adults

Here are some simple steps to help prevent UTIs:

  • Drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces a day.
  • Urinate when the urge arises — “holding it” can lead to bacterial growth — and void the bladder completely.
  • Cranberry juice or tablets and vitamin C can make urine less attractive to bacteria. Check with your loved one’s doctor first though, because these may interfere with medications.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Urinate after sexual intercourse.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Change daily.
  • Avoid feminine hygiene products such as douches and powders, and wipe from front to back.
  • Shower, rather than bathe, if possible. Always keep the genital area clean.
  • Limit use of catheters in those with limited or no mobility.

Avoiding UTIs altogether is, of course, the best thing to do. But knowing that they can show up in seniors without the classic symptoms can ensure treatment before more serious health problems develop.

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