Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly
Recently one of our elderly clients started showing signs of confusion. Did you know that confusion can be a symptom of a urinary tract infection in an elderly person? If you didn’t, you’re not alone.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause serious health problems. UTIs occur when bacteria in the bladder or kidney multiplies in the urine. If left untreated, a urinary tract infection can lead to acute or chronic kidney infections, even to kidney failure. UTIs are also a leading cause of sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.
Why Urinary Tract Infections Are Common in the Elderly
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), elderly people are more vulnerable to UTIs for many reasons, including their overall susceptibility to all infections. This can be due to a suppressed immune system and other age-related conditions. Elderly men and women also experience a weakening of the muscles of the bladder, which leads to more urine being retained in the bladder, poor bladder emptying and incontinence, which can lead to UTIs. Elderly women more commonly get urinary tract infections.
Typical symptoms of UTIs
The typical signs and symptoms of a UTI include:
- Urine that appears cloudy
- 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
- Night sweats, shaking, or chills
Typical UTI symptoms in the elderly
Elderly people with a serious urinary tract infection typically don’t have a fever because their immune system is unable fight off the infection. In fact, elderly often don’t exhibit any of the common symptoms – or don’t tell their caregivers that they have them. UTIs in the elderly are often mistaken as the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, according to NIH, because symptoms include:
- Confusion, or delirium-like state
- Other behavioral changes
- Poor motor skills or dizziness
Why does delirium sometimes occur with a UTI?
The simplest answer is that it is not known. Oftentimes, elderly people with a bladder infection may also be dehydrated, or they may have other generalized problems that mask the UTI. Unfortunately, people living with dementia may be more susceptible to the occurrence of delirium with the presence of a UTI or any number of other “routine” infections. It is important to understand how seemingly minor things for young, healthy individuals can cause major problems in the elderly. Caregivers need to recognize that sudden behavior changes are not normal. Think carefully about whether the elderly person suddenly seemed delirious or whether there was a continuous slide in cognitive and mental function. A physician will have to evaluate the person for a urinary tract infection.
What causes the elderly to develop UTIs?
According to NIH, the following conditions make the elderly more susceptible to UTIs:
- Urinary retention (unable to empty the bladder, even if they just used the bathroom)
- Use of a urinary catheter
- Bowel incontinence
- Enlarged prostate
- Immobility (for example, those who must lie in bed for extended periods of time)
- Surgery of any area around the bladder
- Kidney stones
Where to turn for Help?
When a loved one is aging or has an acute or chronic illness, it is critical that they receive appropriate nutrition, medication, rest, and medical supervision. For many people, home health care professionals can help loved ones maintain their level of wellness for a longer period of time. To inquire about in home health care from DTN Home Care for yourself or a loved one, call 701.663.5373.
By Beverly Unrath, Vice President
Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care, Inc.