Elderly Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms and Risk Factors

August 27, 2013
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urinary tract infection

urinary tract infection

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for about 8.1 million physician visits each year. A condition commonly associated with women (one in five women will experience a UTI in her lifetime), UTIs are common for elderly men as well. After age 80, 1 in 10 men is at risk for a urinary infection. 

As many caregivers know, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common cause of decline for elderly men and women. The condition can be serious, even fatal: Five-percent of older patients die within 28 days of infection.

Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enters the urethra, and then the bladder. If the condition progresses, it can spread to and damage the kidneys.

Older adults are more prone to UTIs for many reasons, including age-related suppression of immune functioning. As a result of muscle weakening, urinary incontinence, or a chronic condition such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s, elderly persons may also experience difficultly emptying the bladder, which can lead to UTIs.

How do you know if your loved one has a UTI?  And who is most at risk for developing the condition?

Risk Factors for UTI in Seniors

  • Persons who require a catheter in the urethra or bladder
  • Urinary retention (problems emptying the bladder)
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney stones
  • Bowel incontinence, narrowed urethra, anything the blocks urine flow
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Immobility, bedridden
  • History of infection (20% of women who have had a UTI with get a 2nd, 30% will get a 3rd)

What are the signs and symptoms of UTI in older adults?

Classic symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:

  • Cloudy or Bloody urine
  • Strong or foul-smelling urine odor
  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pressure in the lower pelvis
  • Low-grade fever

If the infection spreads the kidneys, one may show:

  • Chills and shaking or night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Fever above 101 degrees
  • Flank (side), back, or groin pain
  • Flushed, warm, or reddened skin

Spotting a UTI in an older person is unfortunately not as straightforward as with young persons and can be tricky to diagnose. Elderly people often do not exhibit or express to caregivers any of the most classical symptoms such as fever. Urinary tract infections can mimic symptoms of dementia, leading to misdiagnosis. Such symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion, or delirium-like state
  • Hallucinations
  • Other behavioral changes
  • Poor motor skills or dizziness
  • Falling

The single best indication of a UTI in the elderly is a change in behavior. If you notice your loved one has a sudden change of appetite or the inability to complete simple tasks such as dressing, check for the presence of a UTI.

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