Being diagnosed with a urinary infection signals the presence of bacteria in your urinary tract system. Seniors are commonly affected by urinary infections compared to younger people. In this guide for CDPAP caregivers, we take an in-depth look at urinary infections, their symptoms, and prevention measures.
Understanding Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
A well-functioning urinary tract means all the constituent parts are working harmoniously. The constituent parts of a urinary tract are:
· A bladder
· Two kidneys
· Two ureters
· A urethra
· Two sets of muscles functioning jointly as a sphincter
The urinary tract acts as your body’s drainage system. It drains urine down into the bladder through tubes known as ureters. Urine comprises excreted waste and unwanted fluid. It’s stored in the bladder and is removed via a tube known as the urethra when you pee.
Urine infections are a result of germs (microorganisms) that originate from your bowel. They are harmless while in the bowel. But they can lead to infections when they enter other parts of the urinary tract system like the urethra and bladder.
When these minute germs attack your body, you can experience inflammation and, ultimately, infection. When the immune system is overpowered and unable to put up resistance, the germs proceed to travel across your body and into the kidneys.
Urine infections are commonly referred to as urinary tract infections (UTI) by medical professionals. A lower UTI is an infection that affects only the urethra and bladder. When it goes all the way up to attack one or both kidneys, it is known as an upper UTI.
Upper UTIs are more serious compared to lower UTIs because of the importance of the kidneys to the body’s functionality. You wouldn’t want to experience this type of UTI.
The threat of UTIs increases with age, and that’s why older adults are more affected than the rest. Read on to find out some of the common symptoms of UTI in older adults.
Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection in Older Adults
Urinary infections don’t always exhibit signs and symptoms. Nevertheless, it’s important to know what to look out for when they do. There are some classic symptoms to be wary of.
· A burning sensation in your urethra when passing out urine
· Urgent need to pass urine all the time
· Experiencing chills and fever
· Pelvic pain, particularly in the central part of the pelvis and the surrounding areas of the pubic bone
· Your urine color appears cloudy
· Your urine appears red or cola-colored. This signifies the presence of blood in your urine
· Your urine emits a strong, offensive smell
The above-mentioned are common signs of UTIs across the board. Armed with this information, go on and begin self-diagnosing yourself.
UTIs in older adults need further attention and scrutiny. Below are some common signs of these infections in older people.
Common Symptoms in the Elderly
Check out the following symptoms that are specific to the elderly. They are the telltale signs that the senior has a urinary infection that needs urgent medical attention.
This is a lack of voluntary control over defecation or urination. It’s a potential sign of urinary infection. If symptoms persist, visit your doctor to get checked immediately.
You start to experience feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction without having a justifiable cause. The sudden behavioral changes could point to myriad things. But visit a health facility to rule out the possibility of a UTI.
Everyone gets fatigued at some point in their lives, especially the elderly. However, if you suddenly experience constant lethargy without doing any work or activity that makes you tired, it’s best to confirm whether your urinary tract system is working as it should.
Falling can lead to serious injuries for older people. You may end up breaking a bone or straining a muscle. With age, fall injuries become more difficult to brush off compared to your younger days.
Various reasons could make you fall suddenly. A urinary tract infection could be one of those reasons. If you’re experiencing difficulties maintaining your balance, check with your primary care physician immediately to rule out the possibility of a UTI.
Seniors who are diagnosed with UTI often experience urinary retention. This is a condition where your bladder fails to pass out all the urine during urination. Instead, the bladder only removes urine partially or it may fail to empty at all.
The outcome is serious because urine comprises excreted waste and bacteria from the body. These are removed from the body when you urinate. But when you’re unable to empty your bladder, all these waste materials are retained in your body, causing infections to multiply rapidly.
Another symptom of UTI in older adults is difficulty in moving around. If your motor skills suddenly deteriorate and you end up requiring a wheelchair for movement, the problem could be originating from your urinary tract system.
Lastly, pay attention to your eating habits. Have you suddenly lost appetite for food? If you don’t want to eat for no particular reason and the situation persists, chances are you may be having a urinary infection.
Most people like to ignore things, especially body symptoms. They always think that things will go back to normal after a couple of days. When it comes to UTIs, however, it’s best to go for a checkup straightway even in the case of a minor symptom.
This is because urinary infections can worsen and cause further complications. And you don’t want to bear the brunt of it all.
So what could happen if you left your UTI untreated?
Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Infections That Have Spread to the Kidneys
Ignoring the early symptoms of your UTI can be a grave mistake. This is because the bacteria will spread from your urethra and bladder up to your kidneys.
If you suffer an upper UTI, the symptoms could be more severe. However, you can avoid such a scenario by seeking early treatment.
Here are the tell-tale signs and symptoms of upper UTI that you should be on the lookout for:
· Flushed skin
If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Age by itself is a factor in the prevalence of urinary tract infections. But some preexisting conditions may potentially make you more vulnerable to UTIs as you grow older.
What Puts Adults at Risk for Getting UTIs
Here is a list of some of the potential issues that might make you vulnerable to urinary infections when you grow older:
· History of UTIs
· Catheter use
· Bladder incontinence
· Bowel incontinence
· Kidney stones
· A prolapsed bladder
· Inflamed prostate
· A bladder stone
· Bacterial Prostatitis (a severe infection affecting the prostate)
If you’ve previously experienced any of the above-mentioned conditions, you are highly likely to develop a urinary tract infection. But the good news is that these conditions do not necessarily lead to UTIs.
Assuming you’ve noticed a few of the symptoms of UTI, what do you do next?
How to Confirm a UTI
Your primary care physician is better placed to confirm whether you have UTI or not. When checking for a UTI, your doctor will usually perform a urinalysis on your urine sample to determine what bacteria is behind your infection. A dipstick test may provide adequate information without delay.
Generally, no further tests are carried out when you’re in great shape and develop a one-off infection. But when your doctor suspects an underlying condition, he or she may suggest further tests on your bladder or kidney. Tests on the prostate gland may also be recommended.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, your doctor will put you on treatment right away. Read on to find out the recommended treatment options for UTI.
Treating a UTI in the Elderly
For older adults, antibiotics will often clear the infection after a few days. Common prescriptions include amoxicillin and nitrofurantoin. Ibuprofen or paracetamol may also be prescribed to alleviate any pain, headaches, or fever. When the symptoms still persist after a while, schedule another consultation with your doctor.
Luckily, if you keep germs away from your urinary tract system, you won’t have to seek any treatment.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections in Older Adults
The inconvenience brought by a urinary tract infection is no joke, especially for older adults. It takes away your independence and leaves you leaning on a caregiver for your everyday living.
Try observing the following measures to minimize your vulnerability to urinary tract infections:
· Drink plenty of fluids. Water should be your go-to fluid option. It dilutes your urine and increases your urination frequency. As such, you’re able to flush out bacteria from your urinary tract frequently. This leaves no chance for infection to build up.
· Change incontinence briefs frequently. You should change your adult diapers frequently to avoid rashes and skin infections.
· Drink only water. Steer clear of well-known bladder irritants, like alcohol and caffeine.
· Keep your genitals clean. Ideally, wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or urinating. This helps stop bacteria present in your anus from finding its way to the urethra or vagina.
· Don’t use douches. A douche is a device used to introduce a stream of water into your anal region or vagina for hygienic reasons. Doctors recommend that you avoid douching as it leads to infections in the genital area.
· Urinate when you feel the urge. Don’t hold back on urinating. Urine flushes out waste, which causes infections when left in the bladder.
· Use vaginal estrogen. When your estrogen levels depreciate, it causes your vagina to become less lubricated, itchy, burning, and atrophic. Using vaginal cream alleviates all these menopausal symptoms.
Assuming you’ve contracted UTI and you don’t know, what’s the worst that could happen?
What If a UTI Goes Untreated?
If left untreated, the infection may spread up to your kidneys. If the infection continues to pester, it may ultimately lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Sepsis is characterized by full-body inflammation that results when your body attempts to combat an infection. This inflammation may lead to further problems, like multiple organ failure and even death.
The Bottom Line
You can avoid urinary tract infections as seen from the above-mentioned suggestions. However, if you develop the infection, you should seek prompt treatment to avoid further complications. The trick is to be on the lookout for the suggested classic symptoms and those specific to elderly persons.