The Growing Risk of UTIs with Older Adults

Elderly asian woman having pain in her bladder while sitting on sofa at home

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) pose a significant health concern for older adults, a demographic increasingly at risk due to various physiological, lifestyle and healthcare factors.

This comprehensive article looks into these topics:

  • Reasons behind the increased incidence of UTIs in older adults
  • Causes and symptoms
  • Heightened risk among dementia patients
  • The concept of asymptomatic UTIs
  • Treatment options for UTIs among seniors
  • Preventive measures against UTI

Why do seniors get UTIs?

Older adults are more susceptible to UTIs for several reasons. As you get older, your immune system might not work as well as it used to. This can make it easier for bacteria to sneak into your urinary tract and cause an infection.

Age-related changes in the urinary tract, such as your bladder’s decreased capacity and the incomplete emptying of the bladder, create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

This means that when your bladder doesn’t empty all the way when you pee, this can leave behind urine that’s full of bacteria, which can lead to a UTI.

Also, your bladder can change as you age and become less elastic and more prone to holding onto urine. Similar to incomplete emptying of the bladder, this can create an environment where bacteria can thrive and cause an infection.

Seniors often have other health conditions that can also increase their risk of UTIs. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney problems
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Alzheimer’s

In women, post-menopausal changes can lead to a decrease in oestrogen, which affects the natural flora of the vagina and increases the risk of UTIs.

What causes UTIs in seniors?

Regardless of how old you are, the primary cause of UTI is the bacteria entering your urinary tract.  In seniors, factors like the following can further increase the risk of UTI:

urinary retention, catheter use, kidney stones, and enlarged prostate in men further increase the risk.

What are the symptoms of UTIs in the elderly?

Compared to young people, UTI symptoms in the elderly may not be that noticeable because of these factors:

  • Decreased sensation in the nerves
  • Cognitive changes that make it challenging to communicate symptoms
  • Atypical symptoms or symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions
  • Age-related bladder changes
  • Other chronic health conditions

The classic signs of a UTI include:

  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency in urination
  • Cloudy or bloody urine

Seniors may experience non-specific symptoms such as:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Decline in overall function

Who is at risk of developing UTI?

Seniors with dementia are at a greater risk of developing UTIs due to several factors, including:

  • Cognitive impairment that can lead to poor hygiene practices
  • Difficulty in communicating discomfort or recognizing the need to urinate
  • Using catheters

Other seniors who are at a higher risk of developing UTI include:

  • Women who are going through menopause
  • Seniors with diabetes
  • Seniors with bladder issues
  • Seniors with mobility issues

What is an asymptomatic UTI?

Normally when you get a UTI, you might experience symptoms, especially when you urinate. But with an asymptomatic UTI, you don’t have any of these.

Since you don’t have any symptoms, you might not even realize you have a UTI unless your doctor finds it during a urine test for another reason.

Asymptomatic UTIs occur when bacteria are present in the urine but do not cause any of the typical symptoms associated with a UTI. This condition is more common in the elderly, particularly among those living in long-term care facilities.

While asymptomatic UTIs don’t always require treatment, they can lead to more serious infections if the bacteria spread to the kidneys or bloodstream, especially in those with weakened immune systems.

UTI spelled in wooden cubes

How do you treat UTIs for seniors?

The primary treatment for UTIs is antibiotics, and the choice of which depends on the specific bacteria causing the infection, the patient’s overall health and any antibiotic resistance patterns in the community or care facility.

It’s crucial to tailor the treatment to the elderly, considering potential side effects and interactions with other medications.

In addition to antibiotics, seniors can also implement the following ways to treat a UTI:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, like water or herbal tea
  • Urinate regularly
  • Avoid consuming things that can irritate the bladder, like caffeine, alcohol or acidic foods
  • Use a heating pad on the lower abdomen
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers

How do you prevent a UTI for the elderly?

Preventive strategies for UTIs in older adults include:

  • Practicing good personal hygiene. Regular bathing and wearing clean, breathable clothing can reduce the risk of bacterial growth.
  • Hydrating consistently. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, helps dilute the urine and ensures frequent urination, flushing bacteria from the urinary system.
  • Urinating promptly. Encouraging seniors to urinate regularly and not delay going to the bathroom can prevent urine retention.
  • Consuming cranberry products. Some studies suggest that cranberry juice or supplements may help prevent UTIs by preventing bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract walls, though results are mixed.
  • Maintaining the catheter properly. For seniors who require catheters, a properly used and maintained catheter can prevent UTIs. ensuring that they are properly used and maintained is crucial to preventing UTIs.

Key takeaway

The growing risk of UTIs among older adults reflects the importance of early detection, appropriate treatment and diligent preventive measures. By understanding the unique factors that contribute to the increased risk in this population, caregivers and healthcare providers can better protect seniors from the discomfort and potentially severe complications of UTIs.

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