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Seniors and urinary tract infections, why it is important to know the warning signs

Urinary tract infections are fairly common, especially among seniors. But what most people don’t understand is that some of the symptoms of a UTI can mimic the early signs of dementia.

A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection that occurs anywhere along the urinary tract. The most common symptoms include a fever, painful urination, strong need to urinate and foul-smelling or cloudy urine.

However, in older adults some of these symptoms do not present, like fever, or may be something experienced often, like strong need to urinate, due to age and bladder weakness.

As the infection progresses, it can bring about additional symptoms such as confusion, agitation, poor motor skills and other behavioral changes. Because these symptoms are also warning signs of dementia, a UTI can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed.

I have had instances in which families brought their loved ones for evaluation by our memory care unit, believing the seniors were experiencing the early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, but after a urinalysis he or she was diagnosed with a UTI and treated with medication.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are several conditions that make the elderly more susceptible to urinary tract infections. These include diabetes, catheters, incontinence, immobility and kidney stones. Untreated, a UTI can lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening bloodstream infection; which is why it is so important to monitor and treat any infections.

Prescott offers these suggestions for reducing the risk of developing a UTI:
    •    Drink plenty of fluids
    •    Change undergarments and/or adult diapers frequently
    •    Cleanse genital area from front to back
    •    Avoid or reduce caffeine and alcohol intake
    •    Add cranberry juice or pills to your diet, unless you have kidney stones or are on blood-thinning medication

Anyone suspecting a urinary tract infection should see a physician as soon as possible.

Larry Prescott is executive director of (www.largoseniorliving.com), an assisted living and Alzheimer’s care residential community in Largo. He can be reached at 727-586-0108 or ED.LAR@smacommunity.net.

David Baird April 25, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Liberator Medical has an article about UTI's in men that can be found here -> http://www.liberatormedical.com/catheters/male-urinary-tract-infection.php. This article goes into a bit more detail than what is found here and may be of assistance for those in need.

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