Why are older people more prone to developing urinary infections?

Urinary tract infections are a common problem for older people.

While most women will develop a UTI at some time during their adult lives, men over the age of 50 are also particularly at risk.  

UTIs account for 1.2 per cent of all GP consultations.

In Australia, three were more than 73,000 hospitalisations for kidney and UTIs in 2014-15.

Causes of UTIs in older people

Sue Blinman, Manager of the National Continence Helpline, told HelloCare that older people may be more prone to UTIs because their bladders no longer empty as effectively.

She said early signs that someone may have a UTI is the feeling they need to urinate frequently. She said they may experience the ‘revolving door’ to the toilet, when a person feels the need to return to the toilet soon after having visited.

Ms Blinman said older people’s mobility may be restricted or they may have poor manual dexterity which can compromise their personal hygiene.

For females, Ms Blinman said that poor dexterity may cause them to wipe from the anus to the urethra.

For men, an enlarged prostate can contribute to the bladder not completely emptying.

Signs to look out for

Signs that you might have a UTI include:

  • Strong smelling urine
  • Sudden onset of incontinence
  • Burning or stinging when you urinate
  • Visible blood in urine
  • Not as mentally sharp, in older people UTIs can cause delirium

Receiving a diagnosis

If you or someone you are caring for is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should immediately visit your GP to be assessed.

To obtain a diagnosis of a UTI, you will need to provide a fresh, mid-stream urine sample.

The test will be sent away, and results may take a couple of days.

It’s vitally important that UTIs are treated promptly.

“If you leave a UTI untreated, it can lead to sepsis or kidney damage,” Ms Blinman said.

Treating UTIs

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, antibiotics can be used to treat UTIs, but for less severe cases, increasing fluid intake can be enough to flush out the infection, Ms Blinman said.

However, if symptoms worsen, it’s important to seek medical attention quickly, and get antibiotics.

The diagnosing test will determine the type of microorganism present, and that will determine the type of antibiotic that should be used to treat the infection.

How to prevent UTIs

Practicing good toilet hygiene is the first step to preventing UTIs, said Ms Blinman.

It’s important to wipe from front to back, for both men and women, she said.

For those with poor hand dexterity or shoulder problems, an occupational therapist or physio may be able to help improve the situation.

The second thing you can do is ensure you have sufficient fluid intake.

The general rule is to drink when you feel thirsty, said Ms Blinman, but exactly how much an individual should drink will differ from person to person.

The Urine Colour Chart on the Victorian Continence Resource Centre website can be used to work out if you are drinking enough fluids. If your urine is light yellow, you are drinking enough. This is the “ideal” situation.

If urine is a dark colour or strong smelling, it could be a sign you are dehydrated, and you should increase your fluid intake.

Keep in mind that some medications and vitamin supplements can change the colour of your urine. They may turn your urine darker in colour, even though you are properly hydrated.

Cranberry juice?

What about using cranberry juice to prevent UTIs?

“There’s no scientific evidence that cranberry juice can prevent UTIs,” said Ms Blinman.

“However, it is a great urine deodoriser for people who naturally have smelly urine,” she said.

 

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