A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when harmful bacteria invade the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. This painful condition is very common, particularly among seniors, who may experience more severe symptoms than their younger counterparts.
Most UTIs can be cured with prompt antibiotic treatment, and an early diagnosis is the key to achieving the best possible outcome. An undetected UTI can potentially lead to serious complications, such as a life-threatening blood infection. For these reasons, it’s important for everyone—especially older adults who may have a weakened immune system—to take steps to prevent UTIs, remain watchful for symptoms, and seek prompt medical attention when necessary.
Strategies for Preventing UTIs
While it is impossible to completely prevent all UTIs, there are some ways to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence. Some helpful preventive strategies include:
- Staying well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids, but avoiding bladder irritants such as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
- Urinating promptly after experiencing an “urge to go”
- Keeping the genital area clean by wiping from front to back (this is especially important for bedridden and immobile individuals who rely on others to manage their personal hygiene and keep them clean and dry)
- Changing incontinence briefs frequently, if applicable
A commonly held belief is that drinking cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs. However, studies performed to date have produced mixed results, and more research is needed to confirm the protective effects of drinking cranberry juice, if any.
Signs to Watch For
To help ensure an early diagnosis, it’s important to be vigilant for possible signs of a UTI. The most common symptoms, which can affect individuals of all ages, include:
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Pain or burning sensations during urination
- A feeling that the bladder is not completely empty after urination
- Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, back, or pelvis
- Bloody, cloudy, thick, or odorous urine
- General fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
Because the body’s immune system naturally weakens with age, seniors do not always experience these classic UTI symptoms, which are triggered by an immune system response. Instead, older adults may exhibit behavioral changes, such as confusion or delirium, after contracting a UTI. While the connection between UTIs and behavioral changes is well-established, the causes are not yet fully understood.
Diagnosing a UTI in a Senior
In elderly adults, behavioral changes such as memory loss and poor decision-making can often seem harmless or go unnoticed. Additionally, an individual with Alzheimer’s or another type of age-related cognitive impairment may have difficulty articulating that something is wrong. For these reasons, it is sometimes challenging to diagnose a UTI in a senior. Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to any changes in behavior and to promptly discuss them with a medical professional.
If a UTI is suspected, an infection can be easily confirmed with a simple urinalysis. A medical professional can then perform a urine culture to identify the type of bacteria that is causing the infection and prescribe an appropriate antibiotic to treat it.
UTI Treatment in Seniors
Antibiotics are the cornerstone of UTI treatment. After reaching a diagnosis, a physician may prescribe a first-line, penicillin-based antibiotic, such as amoxicillin, or an antibacterial agent specifically formulated for treating UTIs, such as nitrofurantoin. A more severe infection may warrant treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin.
Regardless of the type of antibiotic prescribed for a UTI, it is essential to begin taking it as soon as possible, and to complete the full course of treatment—even if the symptoms resolve. Although the infection and its symptoms should clear up within a few days, stopping treatment early can increase the risk of recurrence and antibiotic resistance.
During UTI treatment, it is important to drink plenty of water, which can help flush any remaining bacteria out of the body. To improve comfort, an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can be taken to ease burning during urination, and a heating pad can be applied to the pelvis or lower back to soothe pain. Of course, everyone—especially older adults—should consult with a medical professional prior to using any home remedies for a UTI.
Receive a UTI Diagnosis & Treatment at Home
If you’re experiencing UTI symptoms or otherwise feeling unwell, you can receive on-demand healthcare from DispatchHealth in the comfort of your own home. Our qualified medical team has the necessary skills, experience, and tools to treat illnesses ranging from common to complex, including UTIs. While our mobile services are convenient for individuals of all ages, they can be especially so if you’re a senior who has difficulty getting around.
You can request a visit from our experienced medical team via phone, our mobile app, or our website. Within a few hours of your request, we’ll be at your doorstep, ready to diagnose and treat your UTI so you can feel better fast. We accept most major insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, and we’re available to you 365 days per year.