Urinary Tract Infections and the Elderly

Urinary tract infections are common and occur at all ages. Women are more likely to get UTI’s because the urethral opening is close to the vagina and anus, therefore bacteria can enter the urethral opening to the bladder more easily. A person with a UTI may demonstrate symptoms of feeling generally out of sorts; they may notice that their urine has a strong, sometimes foul smelling odour and have a slight increase in their temperature.  Equally they may not show any symptoms at all.

UTI’s and the elderly

The elderly are particularly susceptible to developing UTI’s. It is particularly common for elderly people particularly those developing memory problems to develop repeat UTI’s.  The risk increases if they already struggle with incontinence or have difficulty accessing a toilet.  Those who require the use of a catheter to empty their bladder are also prone to developing UTI’s. Dehydration, medications, poor hygiene and irregular toileting habits can all trigger bacteria growth; soiled continence pads that are left unchanged or inappropriately changed, and the presence of indwelling catheters can be breeding grounds for bacteria especially in the elderly who may already have bacteria in their urine.

Symptoms of UTI’s in the elderly

UTIs in the elderly can cause significant and distressing changes in behaviour which are commonly referred to as ‘acute confusional state’ or ‘delirium’. Delirium is described as a change in someone’s mental state or consciousness and usually develops over one or two days. There are different types of delirium and symptoms may include agitation or restlessness, increased difficulty with concentrating, hallucinations or delusions, or becoming unusually sleepy or withdrawn.

It is important that carers and family who know the person well seek medical help if they see a sudden change in behaviour, to ensure that an assessment takes place.

How to prevent a UTI

  • Anyone who changes a continence pad should maintain a high level of cleanliness of their selves and their patient. Washing hands before and after a product change can help with reducing the risk of cross infection. All indwelling catheter changes are aseptic no touch technique.
  • Single use products should be discarded and not reused.
  • Reusable products should be washed thoroughly
  • Women should wipe front to back after going to the toilet.
  • Incontinence pads, catheters & drainage bags should be changed regularly

Obtaining samples of urine to test for a UTI

If the person is able, a urine sample can be collected in the usual manor to be submitted to the patients GP for testing. However, obtaining a sample from an elderly person can be difficult, particularly if they are incontinent.  Manufacturers have recognised this problem and there are a couple of products that can help to get a urine sample from an incontinence pad; The Newcastle Urine Collection Pack and the Tena UTest.

The UTest is the latest addition to this market and been designed to make getting the urine sample as easy as possible – the urine collection and analysis take place while the U-test is in the pad and the results are valid for 24 hours.