What you should know (but probably don’t) about the risks of UTIs in the over 65s
Shockingly, half of the entire UK population will be affected by a urological condition at some point – with the most common problem being UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections). Urology awareness isn’t often high on people’s agenda and those who suffer from infection or disease regularly do so in silence.
Did you know, UTIs are the second most common kind of infection in the UK after chest infections? And that those most likely to be affected by this type of infection are the over 65s who are also at risk of further infection if a UTI is not properly identified and treated.
If you’re worried about someone, domiciliary care provider, Caremark, have put together this handy guide, which explains what signs to watch out for and advice on ‘home remedies.’
What is a UTI and why are the older generation more at risk?
A UTI will most commonly occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract. Sounds scary, but if symptoms are spotted early enough, UTIs are relatively simple to treat.
The elderly are more at risk of developing at UTI because their immune system is generally weaker, meaning it is more difficult to fight infections in the body.
Simply not drinking enough – and we’re not talking tea and coffee – we mean water and juices, can contribute to the development of UTIs. This is particularly common in the over 65s as they either aren’t aware of the need for good hydration or, in the case of some people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, are no longer aware of their own basic needs and don’t’ drink of their own accord.
Older people also have weaker muscles in the bladder and the pelvic floor, which sometimes means they’re not completing emptying the bladder when urinating. This can lead to incontinence and, in some cases, an infection developing.
What symptoms should I be looking out for?
Common symptoms of UTIs include frequently or urgently needing to urinate, finding it painful when passing urine and even night sweats or chills. Looking out for these warning signs can help with an early diagnosis.
Here comes the tricky part; the elderly sometimes show very few signs that they are suffering from a UTI. Because their immune system is noticeably weaker, their body doesn’t have the ability to display the usual symptoms. On top of this, many seniors do not or cannot express their discomfort to their families/care givers. The good news is, there are other significant signs you can look out for instead;
• Loss of coordination or poor motor skills
• Agitation, confusion or delirium
These symptoms, whether your loved one is displaying one or all six, are sometimes wrongly identified as signs of Alzheimer’s disease so it’s really important to rule out a UTI as soon as possible.
Can it be treated at home?
There are numerous ‘old wives’ tales out there, which recommend drinking gallons of cranberry juice and avoiding coffee and alcohol. Whilst these can alleviate the symptoms, these will not treat the infection.
Drinking plenty of fluids can help with discomfort but this will dilute the urine and mean a medical test for the infection could come back with a negative result, even if the person still carries the infection. A misdiagnosis is bad news for the older generation, so make sure the urine sample submitted hasn’t been diluted unnecessarily.
Regular intake of Vitamin C can also help alleviate the symptoms and discomfort associated with UTIs. Vitamin C acidifies urine and helps fight off any infections which may have passed through from the urethra.
If it hasn’t improved, what can I do next?
If you’re concerned that your loved one has displayed the symptoms for more than a week, it’s best to take them to a GP for a urine test. If the test comes back as positive, it is likely that a course of antibiotics will be prescribed.
In some cases, a hospital stay may be required, as it’s estimated that around 20-30% of patients don’t respond to antibiotics. In serious cases, where UTIs aren’t treated quickly or medically, the infection can damage the kidneys, leading to sepsis. Sepsis infections can cause significant illness and death – with a weakened immune system, the elderly are at much more risk of this. However, only 10-12% of patients require surgery to treat a UTI, meaning almost 90% can be treated medically.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Provided you fully understand the symptoms to be aware of, spotting the early signs of a UTI will mean your loved one can be treated quickly and without much discomfort. If you’re concerned about the general wellbeing of the person you care for, it may be time to look at a long-term plan which can support their independence and ensure good health.
Sadly, many older people don’t speak up about the symptoms of UTIs - they feel as though they’re burdening those around them with minor health issues and so they would rather suffer in silence. Being able to recognise the symptoms and get an early diagnosis can make all the difference because, if left untreated, even simple UTIs can lead to serious illness and infection. Caremark advises that it’s best to err on the side of caution and if an elderly loved one shows any signs, get in touch with a GP.