Itching. Burning. Pain or discomfort. Those may be the first symptoms that come to mind when you think of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

But did you know that older adults can have a UTI without presenting any of these symptoms? And did you know that UTIs can put seniors at a greater risk for serious complications?

It’s important to know the common (and less common!) signs and symptoms of UTIs in older adults, so you can recognize when you or a loved one may need to seek treatment. Keep reading for a closer look at these signs and symptoms.

Common Symptoms Of UTIs

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

Though uncomfortable, the first symptoms of a UTI signify that the immune system is working to fight off the infection.

These signs and symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • Frequent, urgent need to urinate
  • Painful or burning urination
  • A constant feeling of a full bladder
  • Pressure or pain in abdomen or lower back
  • Dark, cloudy or thick urine
  • Low-grade fever

Unique Symptoms Of UTIs For Seniors

As we age, our immune systems slow down and become weakened. This changes how we are able to fight off infections.

When seniors’ immune systems aren’t working like they used to, they may experience only a few or none of the common symptoms of a UTI.

Instead of presenting the common symptoms, UTIs can cause sudden changes in behaviors for seniors, affecting their cognitive state with unique symptoms such as:

  • Confusion
  • Irritation
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in behavior
  • Poor coordination
  • Dizziness

The combination of these cognitive symptoms is known as UTI delirium.

UTI delirium is often temporary, and it will typically resolve itself once the greater infection is remedied. But it’s not something to ignore.

The effect on seniors’ cognitive state may result in a greater risk for symptoms that are seemingly unrelated to a UTI, including:

  • More frequent falls
  • Confusion
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

UTIs in seniors are often missed because caretakers incorrectly assume these symptoms are just a sign of aging. That’s why it’s so important to note any sudden change in abilities, personality or behavior. It may be an undiagnosed UTI that requires immediate attention.

Treatments For UTIs In Seniors

Like any other infection, antibiotics can be used to kill the bacteria causing a UTI.

This UTI treatment is used regardless of the age of the patient, but it is especially important for seniors to finish the full course of treatment. This will ensure that the infection is completely cleared and won’t reappear.

In addition to taking antibiotics, seniors with a UTI may also be advised to drink plenty of fluids and empty their bladder frequently to help flush out the bacteria. Pain medication may also be prescribed to help manage any discomfort.

However, if a UTI is left untreated an older adult may experience more severe symptoms such as:

  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Permanent kidney damage
  • Sepsis

To avoid complications like these, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of UTIs in seniors and seek medical attention if you suspect you or a loved one may have a UTI.