Bacterial or fungal infections of the kidneys, ureter, bladder or urethra, known collectively as urinary tract infections (UTIs), are common, particularly in women. The symptoms are generally clear-cut, and affect urination. However, among seniors, UTIs are not only one of the most common types of infection, they have more severe — and even very different — symptoms than symptoms that occur in people under 65.
Symptoms of UTIs in Seniors
In older people, UTIs can produce behavioral changes, which may be mistaken for cognitive or psychiatric issues. These behavioral changes include:
- agitation or restlessness
- social withdrawal
It is not clear why these symptoms occur in seniors, but doctors theorize that the weakened immune system of older people may allow the infection to spread to the nervous system.
Risk factors of UTIs in Seniors
The following factors increase the risk of seniors contracting a UTI:
- being in a new environment — with new bacteria — such as a hospital or care facility
- having a urinary catheter
Complications of UTIs in Seniors
Unless treated promptly, UTIs can cause a kidney infection, a serious condition that necessitates hospitalization. Untreated UTIs can also lead to sepsis, a condition in which the infection reaches the bloodstream, and then spreads throughout the body. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition. Even when treated, sepsis can necessitate amputation, and may lead to chronic pain or other serious complications.
Prevention of UTIs
It is especially important for seniors to take steps to avoid UTIs. Preventive measures include:
- adequate hydration
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- proper toileting hygiene
Anyone caring for seniors should be sure to help them avoid UTIs — and be able to recognize the signs of one, should it occur.
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