Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not just uncomfortable and troublesome, they are one of the most common infectious problems among older adults. Experts estimate that 25 to 30 percent of all infections in older adults are UTIs.
Aging adults have a heightened vulnerability to urinary tract infections because they are prone to problems that set people up for this kind of infection. Bacterial growing in the urine within the bladder is the basic culprit behind urinary tract infections. Like the bowels, the bladder is supposed to be a sterile environment, but older adults often have difficulty emptying their bladders. When the bladder is not emptied completely, urine remains in it longer than it is meant to and bacterial has an opportunity to grow.
There are other reasons that older adults develop urinary tract infections:
- Immunity is generally diminished as we get older, especially in frail adults.
- Older men in particular are susceptible to incomplete bladder drainage due to prostate issues.
- Women who are post-menopausal are more likely to have difficulty emptying their bladder due to bladder prolapse or cystocele.
- Anticholinergic medications (antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants) may cause older adults to retain urine.
- Bladder and bowel incontinence is more common in older adults, which increases the opportunity for bacterial to contaminate the urethra (the microscopic passageway through which urine exits the bladder).
- Older adults are more likely to be catheterized during hospitalization or in nursing home care.
It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a urinary tract infection and follow up promptly with medical care. Symptoms include:
- A burning sensation during urination.
- Blood in the urine.
- (Occasionally) fever.
- (Occasionally) abdominal pain.
- New or increased incontinence.
When it comes to older adults, both men and women are susceptible to UTIs. In younger and middle-aged adults, they’re more common in women simply due to anatomy. The pathway to a woman’s bladder is short, so it’s not difficult for bacterial to reach its target. Sexual activity and the use of spermicides are suspected causes of UTIs in women.