How to avoid UTIs in the elderly

The weather has been pretty hot and humid recently which means our teams have been on the lookout for any signs of UTIs in our clients. Dehydration can lead to more concentrated urine which can compound bacterial growth, so it’s important we stay vigilant when the sun is shining.

In this blog, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about urinary tract infections (UTIs) including how to spot the signs, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is a urinary tract infection – an infection of the bladder, kidneys or tubes that carry urine (urethra).

What causes a UTI?

UTIs occur when bacteria in the kidneys, bladder or urethra (the tubes connecting the kidneys and bladder) multiplies in the urine. With a UTI, the bacteria enter the urinary tract and then move upwards, infecting the bladder (this is called cystitis) and sometimes the kidneys (this is known as pyelonephritis).

Are older people more likely to get UTIs?

Older people are more vulnerable to UTIs due to their weakened immune system and weaker flow of urine. In men, an enlarged prostate can make it hard for them to empty their bladder totally, so bacteria build up.

However, women are more likely to develop UTIs as bacteria can reach their bladder more easily. If your loved one has any of the following, it’s wise to be particularly vigilant for the symptoms of UTIs:

  • Diabetes
  • Urine retention or incontinence (due to close contact with adult nappies (diapers) which can increase the risk of introducing more bacteria to the urethra).
  • Use of a urinary catheter
  • Bowel incontinence (again, more likelihood of bacteria spreading)
  • Enlarged prostate (as it’s harder to empty the bladder)
  • Immobility
  • Surgery of the bladder or the surrounding area
  • Kidney stones

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

There are a number of symptoms that may indicate that someone has a UTI. These include:

  • Urine that seems to be cloudy or dark
  • Urine in the blood
  • An urgent or frequent need to urinate
  • Urine that smells strong or foul
  • A burning pain or feeling during urination

Infections in the kidneys and urethra (the tubes which connect your kidneys and bladder) are more serious and can lead to kidney damage if untreated. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling pressure or pain in the lower abdomen or back
  • A slight fever
  • Sweats, chills or shaking

Additional symptoms of a UTI in the elderly

If you are looking after an elderly person, it’s a good idea to be aware of additional symptoms of UTIs that they may be displaying. These include:

  • Being confused, delirious or agitated
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Loss of coordination, poor motor skills and dizziness
  • Other unusual behaviour or cognitive changes
  • More frequent falls

Why is it important to treat UTIs?

Preventing UTIs is important as left untreated UTIs increase the risk of serious health problems. Ignoring a UTI, or assuming it will just disappear of its own accord, can mean your loved one ends up with acute or chronic kidney infections, permanent damage to these organs and even total kidney failure.

UTIs are also one of the leading causes of sepsis – a life-threatening response to an infection.

How can you minimise the impact of a UTI, and prevent future UTIs?

It’s important to quickly deal with any potential infections in the elderly. If you think someone you care for has a UTI, you need to immediately increase their fluid intake.

Drinking cranberry juice is often suggested, but they can just drink plenty of water. While your loved one has a UTI, ask them to avoid or limit their alcohol and caffeine intake as these irritate the bladder.

During the UTI and afterwards, the genital area should be kept clean and dry. Women should be reminded to wipe front to back. If incontinence is not an issue, they should wear breathable cotton underwear which should be changed once a day.

Soiled incontinence briefs should be changed quickly and frequently. You can minimise the chance of older adults getting urinary tract infections by good hygiene. Making sure your loved one has sufficient fluid intake – every day, but particularly when it’s hot – can help prevent UTIs.

What to do if you think your loved one has a UTI

Follow the above steps and speak to your doctor. Your loved one will have to give a urine sample. Their UTI may be treated with antibiotics. If you suspect the infection is in your loved one’s kidneys, call 111.