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Playing Detective

By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer
(Page 1 of 3)

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 watch.


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