For those taking care of elderly individuals, it pays to be as knowledgeable about as many potential health conditions as possible. Urinary tract infections (or UTIs) are a common issue that sometimes gets overlooked.
What is a UTI?
A UTI occurs when too much bacteria develops in the urinary tract, usually in the bladder or kidney. A little bacteria is both good and necessary, but when there is a significant overload, it creates an infection. A UTI is neither pleasant nor comfortable, but it is often treated lightly by lay people as something that is just a nuisance. In fact, an untreated UTI can bring about serious consequences, as it has the potential to damage the kidneys. Sepsis, a potentially fatal bloodstream infection, can also result from an untreated UTI.
A Senior Problem
While UTIs can occur at any age, they are disproportionately found among seniors. Why? Well, for a few reasons. For example, younger people tend to empty the bladder completely when they urinate, while in many seniors, muscle weakening may often leave some urine in the bladder. This encourages bacterial growth. In addition, most people simply become more prone to infection of all kinds as they age and their immune systems shift.
Symptoms commonly associated with UTIs are often urine-based: cloudy or bloody urine, urine with a foul scent, discomfort when urinating, or very frequent urination. In addition, fever, chills, and sweating are also common.
However, those taking care of elderly patients need to know that many seniors do NOT present with these symptoms. As a matter of fact, a serious UTI in a senior may often bring about very different symptoms, which bear a resemblance to issues related to dementia. These include confusion, behavioral changes, balance issues, irritability, and sometimes even hallucinations. For those taking care of elderly loved ones with dementia, it may be difficult to determine that a UTI is present.
There are several steps those taking care of elderly loved ones can employ to help reduce the chance of developing a UTI. These include:
- Make sure the loved one drinks plenty of fluids every day; 2 to 4 quarts is recommended.
- Keep the patient away from alcohol and caffeine.
- If kidney stones are not an issue, add cranberry juice to the regular diet.
- Avoid irritating the area by wearing cotton underwear rather than blends or other fabrics.
As always, check with a doctor before making changes to the loved one’s diet.
If a caregiver suspects a possible UTI, he or she should alert the doctor and determine the best course of action to take.