ARTICLES / General / Playing Detective
By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer
The second-most common type of infection, a
urinary tract infection (UTI), is responsible for
approximately 8.3 million doctor visits each year,
says the National Center for Health Statistics. A
healthy number of those visits are from seniors and
also repeat patients.
More commonly known as a bladder infection, a UTI
can be life threatening to an elderly loved one if
left untreated. It may lead to acute or chronic
kidney infections, which can cause permanent damage
or even kidney failure. A bladder infection is also
a leading cause of a potentially life-threatening
infection in the bloodstream called sepsis.
UTIs are easy to cure, but harder to diagnose in
the senior citizen population. Caregivers must play
detective if noticing behavioral changes, especially
if the onset of such a shift is sudden. They should
also not be surprised when a physician orders a
urine analysis for a complaint of increased
confusion in a loved one.
Medically speaking, a urinary tract infection
happens when bacteria in the bladder or kidney
multiplies in the urine. The senior population tends
to have more UTIs than other age groups due to a
number of factors, the first being weakened bladder
muscles. The aging process takes its toll on all
muscle groups, and a weakened bladder is the main
culprit for incontinence and also more urine being
held in the body.
Couple that with extra susceptibility to
infections because of age and decreased immune
function, as well as a less mobile lifestyle, and
UTIs prove to be quite common. A caregiver should
know the symptoms of a UTI and some prevention
measures in order to save a loved one from more
complications as they age.
The diagnosis of UTIs in the elderly is much more
difficult than in the general population. The
bacteria building in the urine eventually spreads to
the blood stream, crossing the blood-brain barrier,
causing a barrage of cognitive and mental symptoms.
Many times these UTI symptoms in the elderly mimic
those of dementia and Alzheimerís, and are diagnosed
by caregivers and health care providers as such.
A key fact for caregivers to know is that many
senior loved ones will not show the usual symptom of
a fever, since the immune system is weakened and
canít develop such a response. Experts say that 30
to 40 percent of seniors with an infection do not
exhibit signs of a fever.
In addition to fever, many of the other common
symptoms may be found, but not reported by elderly
people suffering from a UTI, such as strong-smelling
urine, pain with urination, pelvic pressure, night
sweats, and cloudy or bloody urine. If a loved one
does have these symptoms, they may not be able to
express them, though a daily caregiver should keep