Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in all adults, but your risk rises as you get older. More than 10% of women aged 65 and over have UTIs, increasing to nearly 30% after age 85.
Men are less likely to develop a UTI at any age than women, with fewer than 1% of men aged 65-74 getting UTIs. However, their risk also increases with age.
Beyond a desire to ease your uncomfortable symptoms, the team at Healthstone Primary Care Partners encourages all seniors to seek prompt care for UTIs. As you get older, these uncomfortable infections have a higher chance of progressing to cause kidney and body-wide infections.
UTIs occur when bacteria get into your urinary tract. Most UTIs affect your urethra (the tube carrying urine out of your body) and your bladder, but the infection can progress to infect your kidneys and get into your bloodstream.
In addition to having a higher risk for UTIs, seniors often have a complicated infection, which means the infection is hard to treat. The most common signs of a UTI include:
You may also have a fever, nausea, and back pain if the infection spreads.
When a person with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia has a UTI, their symptoms include behavioral changes. For example, they may sleep more, become more forgetful or confused, get angry, or hallucinate.
These are the top reasons your risk of developing a UTI increases as you get older:
All your muscles weaken as you get older, including the muscles controlling your bladder, urination, and bowel movement.
When the muscles in the wall of your bladder weaken, they don’t tighten enough to empty your bladder when you urinate completely. As a result, urine stays in your bladder, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth.
If the muscles controlling urination or bowel movements weaken, you may develop incontinence. On its own, incontinence doesn’t increase your risk of getting UTIs. But if you wear protective briefs, it’s easier for bacteria to find their way into your urethra and cause a UTI.
Estrogen does more than regulate your reproductive system. It also protects the health of the tissue lining your urethra, urinary tract, and vagina. The loss of estrogen at menopause makes these tissues thinner, drier, and less acidic.
Changes in acidity make it easier for bacteria to grow, significantly increasing your risk for UTIs. Tissue changes lead to inflammation in your urethra, making it hard to urinate and raising your chance of developing a UTI.
The prostate gland naturally enlarges as men get older. Since the urethra passes through the center of your prostate, an enlarged prostate blocks the tube and affects urination. This problem increases men’s risk of UTI because urine stays in your bladder. The stagnant urine fosters the growth of bacteria.
As you get older, your risk of developing chronic health conditions increases. Several chronic conditions are associated with UTIs, including diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
High blood sugar affects the function of your urinary tract. Both diabetes and chronic kidney disease cause chronic inflammation, weakening your immune system and making you more vulnerable to a UTI.
UTIs pose a unique concern for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. They’re more likely to have a UTI compared to seniors who don’t have dementia, possibly because they don’t notice or can’t express their symptoms.
A catheter is a flexible, soft, plastic tube placed through your urethra and into your bladder, allowing urine to drain through the tube. If you have an indwelling catheter, it stays in place for an indefinite amount of time to ensure urine doesn’t build up in your bladder. However, the longer you have an indwelling catheter, the higher your risk of a UTI.
As you get older, your immune system weakens, produces fewer bacteria-destroying cells, and responds more slowly to infections. Because your immune system is less efficient at fighting bacteria, you’re more likely to get a UTI than when you were younger.
As experts in geriatric care, we’re here to help seniors with any urinary problem. If you have more questions or need medical care, call one of our Healthstone Primary Care Partners offices in Weston, Pembroke Pines, or Davie, Florida, or request an appointment online today.