Urinary Tract Infections

Drinking water to prevent UTIUrinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common, accounting for more than 8 million doctor visits every year. Women of all ages are prone to them, but elderly men (about one in ten over age 80), and individuals with limited mobility, suppressed immune systems, or blockages in the urinary tract due to enlarged prostate or kidney stones are also at high risk. These infections are easily cured with antibiotics, but untreated UTIs can lead to such serious conditions as kidney infection or sepsis. And older adults often don’t exhibit classic—or even any—symptoms, so caregivers must be vigilant.


Classic UTI symptoms include cloudy, bloody, or strong-smelling urine, a frequent or urgent need to urinate, pain or burning with urination, low-grade fever, night sweats, and cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen.

The single best sign of a UTI in the elderly is often a sudden behavioral change.

Seniors may display none of those common symptoms because of their aging immune systems. Be on the lookout for any abrupt changes in behavior, such as loss of energy or appetite, or the inability to get dressed. Also, watch for:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor motor skills
  • Dizziness
  • Falling
  • Sudden urinary incontinence

The single best sign of a UTI in the elderly is often a sudden behavioral change. Knowing your loved one’s habits can be the first line of defense.

Preventive Measures

Some simple steps to help prevent UTIs include:

  • Drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces a day.
  • Urinate when the urge arises—“holding it” can lead to bacterial growth—and void the bladder completely.
  • Cranberry juice or tablets and vitamin C can make urine less attractive to bacteria, but check with your loved one’s doctor first, as they may have negative effects on certain conditions or medications.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine.
  • Urinate after sexual intercourse.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Change daily.
  • Avoid feminine hygiene products such as douches and powders, and wipe from front to back.
  • Shower, rather than bathe, if possible. Always keep genital area clean.
  • Limit use of catheters in those with limited or no mobility.

Avoiding UTIs altogether is, of course, the best-case scenario. But knowing that they can show up in seniors without any hallmark symptoms can ensure treatment before more serious health problems develop.