UTIs, or Urinary Tract Infections, are common infections that are usually easily treated with antibiotics. But, when they go undiagnosed, they can cause serious health concerns. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out if an older adult has a UTI because they don’t always show the typical symptoms.


What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection that is usually caused by bacteria in the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra. Anyone can get them, although they are four times more common in women than men, and much more common in the elderly.


What are the usual symptoms?

Classis symptoms of UTIs include a burning sensation when urinating, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, a persistent urge to urinate, and pelvic pain.


How are symptoms different in older adults?

Older adults, especially those with dementia, may experience behavioral symptoms such as confusion, agitation or lethargy, instead of, or in addition to, more typical symptoms. Other non-classic symptoms include incontinence, decreased mobility or a suppressed appetite.


How are UTIs diagnosed?

Once a UTI is suspected, it can be easily confirmed with a simple urine test. And, the sooner it is diagnosed, the easier it is to cure. Home tests for UTIs are available at your local pharmacy, and though they are not 100% accurate, they may be a place to start if getting to the doctor is difficult.


How are UTIs treated?

Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for UTIs and are typically all that is needed. The medication prescribed and the length of treatment will depend on the type of bacteria found in the urine and the condition of the patient’s health.


What are the risk factors?

Urinary tract infections are more common in older adults for a variety of reasons and having diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or diabetes increases the risk. Other risk factors include:

  • wearing incontinence briefs
  • a history of UTIs
  • having dementia
  • using a catheter
  • bladder or bowel incontinence
  • weakened immune system


How can UTIs be prevented?

It’s impossible to prevent all UTIs, but there are steps that help decrease the chance of infection. These steps are especially important for those who are immobile and unable to take care of themselves:

  • drinking plenty of fluids—cranberry juice has been shown to prevent UTIs in some studies
  • changing incontinence briefs frequently
  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • keeping the genital area clean by wiping front to back after going to the bathroom
  • urinating as soon as the urge arises