Stay Ahead of Urinary Tract Infections

By Susan Varbedian Lucken, R.N., B.S.N.

Urinary tract infections, or UTI’s, are responsible for nearly 10 million healthcare visits each year. A UTI is an infection in any part of your uri-nary system-your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract- the bladder and the urethra.

Women are at greater risk of developing a UTI than are men. Infection limited to your bladder can be painful and annoying. However, serious consequences can occur if a UTI spreads to your kidneys.

Doctors typically treat UTI’s with antibiotics, but you can take steps to re-duce your chances of getting a UTI in the first place by doing these things:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. This helps dilute your urine and ensures that you’ll urinate more frequently- allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
  • Drink cranberry juice. Although studies are not conclusive that cran-berry juice prevents UTI’s, it is likely not harmful. Do not drink it if you are on Coumadin or have a history of kidney stones.
  • Wipe from front to back. This helps prevent bacteria in the anal re-gion from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
  • Emptying your bladder soon after intercourse.
  • Women should avoid potentially irritating feminine products like douches and powder.
  • Change your birth control method. Certain ones can contribute to bacterial growth.


  • UTI’s don’t always cause signs and symptoms, but when they do they may include:
  • a strong persistent urge to urinate
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • urine that appears cloudy
  • urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored- a sign of blood in the urine
  • strong-smelling urine
  • pelvic pain, in women

UTI’s may be overlooked or mistaken for other conditions in older adults. It may surprise you to know that according to AgingCare, the population most likely to experience UTI’s is the elderly. Older individuals are more vulnerable for many reasons , including their overall susceptibility to infec-tions due to a weakened immune system. Elderly men and women also experience a weakening of the muscles of the bladder and pelvic floor, which can lead to increased urinary retention ( incomplete emptying of the bladder ) and incontinence. These all contribute to infection.

We just discussed the typical signs and symptoms of UTI’s, but older indi-viduals with UTI’s may not exhibit any of the hallmark signs listed above because  their immune systems are unable to mount a significant re-sponse to the infection. On top of the lack of noticeable symptoms, many seniors do not or cannot express their discomfort to caregivers.

Since elders’ bodies respond differently to infection, it’s important to look for different signs and symptoms. One tell-tale symptom of UTI’S in the elderly is often mistaken for the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, according to National Institutes of Health.

Here are some lesser-known UTI symptoms in seniors. You will notice that they are markedly different from the typical signs and symptoms.

  • diabetes
  • inability to empty the bladder completely ( urinary retention )
  • use of a urinary catheter
  • bowel incontinence
  • bladder incontinence
  • enlarged prostate
  • immobility
  • surgery on any area around the bladder
  • kidney stones

People with incontinence are at an increased risk for UTI’s because of the close contact that adult briefs and other incontinence products have with their skin. While these products can help to contain messes and prevent embarrassment associated with accidents , they can also introduce bacte-ria into the urethra.

Stay Ahead of Urinary Tract Infections

  • change briefs promptly and frequently
  • encourage front-to-back wiping and cleansing
  • keep the genital area clean
  • set reminders/timers for seniors who are memory-impaired to try to use the bathroom instead of an adult brief

Although anyone of any age can get a UTI, there are significant differ-ences in symptoms in the elderly. If you think your loved one might have a UTI, see your doctor right away to avoid further complications. A urine sample for lab analysis is one of the easiest ways to diagnose a UTI and that is sometimes followed by a urine culture. If caught early on, a simple course of antibiotics typically clears the infection in no time.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *