Urinary tract infections may be more serious for older adults

Patient meeting with nurse

Urinary tract infections can happen to anyone, young or old, male or female. But they are more likely in older adults, who are also at greater risk.1

Common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) are burning pain and frequent urination. Older adults might or might not experience these symptoms, but they might also experience confusion—particularly those already suffering from dementia.2

Other reasons older people are at greater risk for UTIs include:

  • Previous history of UTIs
  • Catheter use
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence
  • A prolapsed (or “dropped”) bladder3

Urinary tract infections are typically treated with antibiotics—generally with good results. But there are limits to their effectiveness, according to an article published in the journal Aging Health. The article said UTIs are particularly problematic for older adults, in part because:

  • Diagnosing UTIs is more difficult, especially if the patient is living in a long-term care facility or has experienced cognitive decline.
  • Sometimes patients are prescribed antibiotics when they should not be. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development of drug-resistant organisms.
  • A condition called asymptomatic bacteriuria, which refers to elevated bacteria in the urine, is similar to a UTI but without the infection that would require the use of antibiotics.4

The Aging Health article advocated for more careful use of antibiotics and clinical trials of well-known alternative therapies such as cranberry capsules and the probiotic lactobacilli.5

Other steps you can take to help reduce your risk of UTIs:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Practice good genital and urinary hygiene
  • For women, ask your doctor about whether you should use vaginal cream to promote healthy bacteria6

Contact your doctor if you suspect that you or a loved one has a UTI. If a UTI is diagnosed early, it may be easier to treat.7 Without treatment, a UTI may spread to the kidneys and the bloodstream, which could lead to a life-threatening blood infection.8

Sources:

  1. T.A. Rowe and Manisha Juthani-Mehta, “Urinary tract infection in older adults,” Aging Health, 2013 Oct; 9(5):10.2217/ahe.13.38, last accessed April 20, 2020. https://doi.org/10.2217/ahe.13.38, opens new window
  2. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Older Adults,” Healthline, last accessed April 20, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/uti-in-elderly, opens new window
  3. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Older Adults.”
  4. “Urinary tract infection in older adults.”
  5. “Urinary tract infection in older adults.”
  6. “6 Things You Should Know about UTIs in Older Adults,” Cleveland Clinic, last accessed April 20, 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-things-you-should-know-about-utis-in-older-adults/, opens new window
  7. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Older Adults.”
  8. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Older Adults.”