Did you know that Urinary Tract Infections, also known as UTIs, are often confused with known signs of Alzheimer’s Disease in senior adults? The confusion between this common and usually easy to treat infection and that of the currently incurable brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, has to do with some of the surprisingly shared symptoms.
Understanding the differences could help you or a loved one from a preventable hospitalization.
So, what is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. These infections are usually bacterial infections; however, they can also be fungal infections. The infection may occur due to fecal bacteria entering the urethra where urine is released from the body. If the person’s immune system is weakened or stressed, the body may not be able to fight off the bacteria on its own.
Typically, when a healthy adult gets a UTI, the symptoms are easy to identify, and the infection is simple to diagnose. The most recognizable symptoms of a UTI include:
- Increase in frequency and urgency in urination
- Painful or burning urination
- Dark, cloudy, or thick urine
- Pressure or pain in your abdomen or lower back
- Constant feeling of fullness in your bladder
When a UTI in a healthy adult goes untreated, they also may experience fever, pain in the lower to mid back where the kidneys are located, nausea with or without vomiting, and fatigue.
As we age our immune system weakens and becomes less capable of destroying invasive bacteria before it spreads and creates an infection. These weaker immune systems may not be as capable at fighting off invasive bacteria like the immune system of someone much younger.
Did you know that senior adults are more prone to develop a UTI? This vulnerability to this type of infection is contributed to not only the expected changes to our bodies as we age, but also secondary to some health conditions that are more common in senior adults.
When an older adult develops a UTI, these common symptoms may not be present, or they may be too subtle to notice.
Senior Adults instead may experience:
- Sudden onset of urinary incontinence
- Agitation or aggression
- Frequent Falls
- Decreased Appetite
While some of these symptoms are part of the aging process, it is important to recognize if there is a sudden change in their abilities and their behavior as it may be a UTI. When left untreated or improperly treated, Urinary Tract Infections carry a dangerous risk in older adults since their immune systems are weaker. They are more prone to developing kidney disease or secondary infections. Severe UTIs can become serious enough that the bacteria spreads through the body, leading to Sepsis, which can be potentially fatal.
Additional things that increase the risk of a UTI in a senior adult include but are not limited to:
- Decrease response to thirst
- Poor Hygiene
- Incontinence/ Use of Adult Briefs
- Decreased mobility/ Immobility
- Urinary Catheter (Indwelling or Straight Catheterization)
Preventing future UTIs can be achieved by some easy to adapt habits:
- Hydration: Encourage Six 8-ounce glasses of water each day as this will help flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra
- Hygiene: Take Showers instead of Baths; Women should wipe from front to back moving bacteria away from the urethra opening
- Change Adult Briefs frequently
- If catheter use is required, they should be inserted in the cleanest environment possible that is free from risk of cross contamination
- Lean on the support of in-Home Care to assist with hydration and hygiene.
Oftentimes it can be embarrassing for your loved one to discuss their personal habits and changes to their body with you or they may not experience any urinary symptoms, so it is important to be aware of and recognize the symptoms of a UTI in senior adults.
If you believe that a UTI may be present, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
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