Recognizing a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in an Elderly Parent

When people think of a urinary tract infection, they tend to think of burning pain, fevers and frequent urination. However, seniors may not always experience these classic symptoms of UTI. Often the only symptom of a UTI in a senior is an increase in confusion or change in behavior. This is especially true of people with dementia or mild forgetfulness. Keep an eye out for the symptoms listed below, especially in the presence of new or increased confusion or behavioral changes.

Signs of a Urinary Tract Infection

Not everyone with a UTI will have every sign or symptom. In some seniors, the only noticeable symptom is increased confusion, hallucinations or changes in behavior.

  • Fever
  • Pain or Burning with Urination
  • Frequent Need to Urinate
  • Dark, Cloudy Urine
  • Abnormal or Foul Smelling Urine
  • New or Increased Incontinence
  • Lower Back Pain

In some cases, a senior’s immune system is able to fight off the infection-causing bacteria on its own, but in other cases it cannot. Drinking extra fluids, especially cranberry juice, when mild, potential signs of UTI first rear their head may be enough to turn it around. However, if they persist more than a day or so, or are bothersome, talk to the doctor right away. They may want to arrange testing and treatment to prevent complications.

Diagnosing a Urinary Tract Infection

Only a doctor can diagnose a urinary tract infection after seeing the results of a urinalysis test. It’s important to treat UTIs early, because they can lead to serious effects and consequences. If left untreated, a UTI might require hospitalization and can take weeks to resolve. It can even lead to a life-threatening blood infection

What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?

UTI’s result from bacteria entering the urethra, the tube that drains urine from the bladder. Bacteria is at a greater risk of entering the urethra and causing an infection when:

  • The senior has a history of UTIs
  • The senior uses a catheter
  • The senior is incontinent of bladder or bowel
  • The senior has a prolapsed bladder
  • The senior has dementia
  • The senior is unable to cleanse him or herself adequately after using the toilet for any reason

Home Care can Help Reduce the Risk of UTIs

When a senior has trouble cleansing themselves properly after using the toilet, or has bladder or bowel incontinence, it increases the chances for bacteria to enter the urethra and cause an infection. Experts recommend washing well, wiping front to back (for females) and changing incontinence briefs frequently. Staying hydrated with plenty of fluids, and avoiding bladder irritants like caffeine and alcohol, can also reduce risk of infections. Home care aides are able to assist with toileting, bathing and perineal hygiene, which can reduce the risk of infection when performed regularly. Home care aides can also assist with hydration by accessing and encouraging fluids for the senior to drink.

UTI’s are uncomfortable, but beyond that they can endanger a senior’s health. They can contribute to confusion, falls, and can lead to hospitalization and life-threatening conditions when not treated. Preventing urinary tract infections is the smart way to go. Home care can make a big difference for seniors who have difficulty with maintaining personal hygiene.



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