If you are supporting an older person or caring for a loved one it is likely that you have heard the term UTI or Urinary tract infections. But, it is possible that you don’t really know exactly what a UTI is. A UTI is a type of infection that is common among older people and it has some really significant symptoms.
Other effects of a urinary tract infection (UTI)
There are a number of symptoms that impact on somebody with a UTI, they are different for everybody but here are some of the most common.
- Urine that appears cloudy or dark
- Bloody urine
- Strong smelling urine
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate
- Pain or burning during urination
- Feelings of pressure in the lower pelvis
- Low-grade fever
- Night sweats, shaking or chills
- Sudden change in behaviour
- Confusion, agitation or withdrawal
- Loss of motor skills
- Increased likelihood of falling
What is a urinary tract infection?
A UTI is a common infection that effects the Urinary Tract, it is often caused by bacteria entering via the urethra (the urethra is the tube that allows the body to pass urine).
Women are more commonly affected by UTIs than men with about 50% of women needing treatment for UTIs at some stage in their life. However, as people age the likelihood that both men and women will contract a UTI increases significantly.
The main reason for older people becoming more likely to experience the infection is their propensity to retain urine (not completely empty the bladder).
Delirium or dementia?
One of the most common and most worrying effects of UTIs on the elderly is the sudden change in behaviour and the symptoms that are often mistaken for dementia. Also with those people that have a diagnosis of dementia symptoms of a UTI often appear to be a quick and sudden progression of their condition.
The cause of these symptoms is known as delirium, a clinical syndrome that is somewhat difficult to define but involves abnormalities of thought, perception and levels of awareness. It typically is of quick and apparently sudden onset and is intermittent. Patients may appear confused or ‘not with it’ when talking to them.
There may be an increase in confusion, agitation, or they may become withdrawn, it may seem as if there whole personality has changed. This delirium can be caused by a number of different factors including chest infections, UTIs and a number of other conditions. Whatever the cause the actions are the same seek immediate medical help.
How are UTIs diagnosed?
The primary way of identifying an UTI is via the symptoms listed above. Once there is a suspicion of a UTI it is then normally backed up with urinalysis where the urine is tested for bacteria and proteins.
If you are not medically trained then contact your GP who will conduct the tests for you. If you provide a small urine sample they will be able to complete the test very quickly and give you an instant result.
How are UTIs treated?
Once they have confirmed a UTI your doctor or nurse may prescribe antibiotics, once you have started the treatment you should see the symptoms start to clear up within about 5 days. Even if you feel better it is vital to complete the entire course of antibiotics. In a few cases some people experience very severe UTIs and may need to be referred to hospital.
Sometimes people can suffer from what is called recurring UITs, if you are experiencing this where your UTI keeps coming back after treatment, you’ll may be prescribed a longer or stronger course of antibiotics. In some cases if you just can’t get shift your UTIs your GP may give you a “repeat prescription”.
Helping to prevent UTIs
The following may not prevent all UTIs but by following the advice you will improve your chances of avoiding them:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Consider taking a supplement called D-mannose
- Drink cranberry juice
- Consider taking a probiotic called lactobacillus
- Follow good toilet hygiene
- Take showers instead of baths
- Change underwear often
- Do not wear clothes that fit too tightly
- Do not hold it when you need a wee
It is important that family and friends who know the person well seek medical help if they see a sudden change in behaviour, to ensure that an assessment takes place.
If the delirium is due to a UTI, treatment with an appropriate course of antibiotics may help to lessen the symptoms of confusion.
If you are worried about your loved one who lives with dementia and who may need a specialist care please contact your nearest Greensleeves Care home and speak to Home Manager.