How to Identify (and Manage) UTI Symptoms in Elderly Patients

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed Oct 12 2022.

How to Identify (and Manage) UTI Symptoms in Elderly Patients

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect people from all walks of life, but they’re especially common in individuals 65 and older. If you’re a family caregiver who cares for someone in this demographic, it’s important you know how to spot the signs of a potential problem.

To learn more about UTI symptoms (and prevention), we reached out to Kristina Lubofsky, a gerontologist, caregiver, and the founder of Busy Minds Box. Below, we discuss some of the telltale UTI signs to watch out for and offer simple recommendations on how to keep your loved one healthy and infection-free.

Why are people 65 and older more likely to develop urinary tract infections?

The natural aging process affects the human body in various ways, and the urinary system isn't immune.

“As we get older, the muscles in our bladder and pelvic floor start to weaken. Over time, that can lead to urine retention or incontinence,” Lubofsky said. “If we retain urine for too long, we give bacteria a chance to build up, leading to infection.”

Several other factors can also contribute to UTIs, including:

Gender. More women get UTIs than men, according to Lubofsky. Not only because of their anatomy but because after menopause, women produce lower levels of estrogen. These hormonal changes can result in a bacterial imbalance, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections.

Mobility challenges. People who spend most of their time in bed or in a wheelchair may have trouble making it to the bathroom when they need to urinate. As a result, bacteria can build up in the bladder. 

Catheter use. A catheter is a medical device that helps empty urine from the bladder. If your loved one has a catheter, make sure to regularly clean and sterilize it. These preventive actions can keep harmful bacteria from entering their urethra, bladder, or kidneys.

Weakened immune system. Chronic health problems, like diabetes and kidney disease, affect the immune system’s ability to fend off harmful invaders. If your care recipient has these or other conditions, they’re also more likely to develop a UTI.

Neurodegenerative illnesses. “Neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia don’t necessarily increase the risk of UTIs,” Lubofsky said. “But, they do make it harder to identify a UTI in individuals who can’t express pain or discomfort the way those without these conditions can.”

What are some UTI symptoms in elderly patients that caregivers should look out for?

If you care for a friend or family member of advanced age, there are several symptoms to look out for in terms of urinary tract infections, including:

  • Sudden changes in their urinary habits

  • Pain or burning during urination

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pain in their lower abdomen

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

“Older adults with urinary tract infections often seem agitated or more restless than usual,” Lubofsky added. 

“They may even pull back from social activities or hallucinate. As a family caregiver, be on the lookout for rapid or unexplained changes in mood or behavior,  especially confusion or extreme fatigue.”

If I care for an older person, how can I reduce their risk of UTIs?

There are several things you can do to lower the risk of urinary tract infections, if your care recipient is 65 or older, including:

Stay hydrated. Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of fluids. They don’t need to drink eight glasses of water a day, but they should drink enough so that they aren't thirsty. 

Don’t wait to go. If your care recipient uses a wheelchair or another mobility device, have them alert you whenever they need to urinate. Helping them make it to the toilet on time can prevent harmful bacteria from building up in their bladder.

Change incontinence products regularly. Some older adults use diapers, underpads, and other incontinence products. If your care recipient is one of them, change these items frequently and throughout the day. 

Practice good hygiene. When your care recipient uses the toilet, help them wash their hands after. In addition, encourage them to wipe from front to back. This prevents harmful bacteria, like e. Coli, from entering the urethra and/or bladder.

Drink cranberry juice. “There’s some evidence that cranberry juice (with as little added sugar as possible,) can help reduce the risk of urinary tract infections,” Lubofsky said. A compound in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, stops bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.

Is there anything else I should know about UTI symptoms in elderly patients?

Many people think of urinary tract infections as minor annoyances, but for older individuals, they can lead to potentially life-threatening risks.

“If left untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney failure or even sepsis, which can be fatal,” Lubofsky said. “If you suspect a UTI, see a doctor as soon as possible before the infection has a chance to get worse. Usually, it can be treated with antibiotics, but if you wait to seek treatment, the symptoms may become severe.”

Caregivers: Make Sure You’re Prepared to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

If your loved one has urinary incontinence or other health conditions that increase their risk of urinary tract infections, as their caregiver it’s important that you have preventive supplies on hand. That way, at the first sign of a problem, you can stop it from getting worse.

Here at Carewell, we carry various products to help combat UTIs, including AZO cranberry supplements for urinary tract health, McKesson urinalysis test strips, and UTIHeal liquid nutrition from DermaRite.

If you have questions about any of these products or need help selecting items that align with your care recipient’s needs, contact us. Call (855) 855-1666 during normal business hours or send an email to support@carewell.com. Our friendly Care Specialists are here to help! 

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.