For most people, a UTI is an annoying, slightly painful yet treatable condition. For seniors, UTIs that aren’t treated promptly can lead to more serious complications quickly.

That’s why it’s so important to stay informed on how UTIs affect seniors’ health, including the symptoms, causes, potential dangers and treatments.

What are UTIs?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial or fungal infection of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, uterus, bladder and urethra.

They can be very uncomfortable and cause symptoms like a frequent urge to urinate, a constant feeling of a full bladder, burning sensation while urinating and pain in the lower abdomen. UTIs can also lead to more serious complications, especially in seniors.

If left untreated, a person may experience symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Pain in the lower to mid back where your kidneys are located

UTI symptoms for seniors can also include:

  • Frequent falls
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

In both men and women, UTIs are the second most common infection in the body. Though women are more prone to UTIs because of their shorter urethras, men can get them, too, especially men with prostate issues that cause urinary difficulties which increase the risk of UTIs.

It’s estimated that approximately 8 million doctor visits per year account for UTI infections. For seniors, that number is even higher.

Why are seniors more prone to UTIs?

More than one-third of all infections treated in senior living communities are caused by UTIs. Over 10 percent of women over the age of 65 have reported having a UTI within the past year, and that number increases to almost 30 percent in women over 85.

Seniors are at a higher risk of developing UTIs because of factors such as:

  • Decreased urine flow: An enlarged prostate or kidney stones may block the flow of urine, and weakened bladder and pelvic floor muscles make it easier for bacteria to grow in the urinary tract.
  • Decreased mobility: Having a difficult time traveling to and from the bathroom may cause older adults to hold their urine, increasing the risk of bacterial growth.
  • Incontinence: Bacteria found in stool can cause urinary tract infections.
  • Catheter: Older adults who regularly use catheters are more likely to develop infections.
  • Weakened immune system: As you age, your immune system becomes less efficient at fighting the bacteria that cause UTIs.
  • Hormonal changes: The drop in estrogen that occurs in women after menopause can make infections more likely to occur.

Recovery From a UTI in Seniors

If you are monitoring your loved one’s care, it’s important to know the signs and watch for symptoms of a UTI.

Left untreated, UTIs can lead to more serious complications, such as kidney infections, which can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. UTIs can also lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when an infection spreads through the body.

Like many infections, the first line of defense against UTIs are antibiotics. If you suspect you or your loved one may have a UTI, schedule a visit to see your doctor for a urine test and to receive a prescription.