Urinary incontinence, which is also known as an overactive bladder, can become prevalent no matter the age.

However, it is seen most commonly in older adults. Caregivers assume incontinence happens as a direct result of growing older, but it is important to understand incontinence is not normal. Incontinence is a symptom. Those who suffer from an overactive bladder may also be suffering from dehydration, diabetes, or a urinary tract infection (UTI).

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection occurs in the urinary system that includes the urethra, the bladder, or the ureters. Most commonly found in women, UTIs typically occur when bacteria comes in contact with the urinary system from tiny bits of feces, toilet water back splashes, and STDs. It’s difficult to know the cause of the infection since bacteria can easily pass into the urethra.  Common symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • The urge to urinate despite an empty bladder
  • Blood in urine
  • Lower back and abdominal pain

Left untreated, UTIs can become more severe, causing a fever or even a kidney infection.

Urinary Tract Infection in Older Adults

Although some UTI symptoms are more blatant, it can be difficult to diagnose a UTI without the guidance of a physician. An elderly person’s urinary tract infection is least likely to cause obvious symptoms and may not involve any sign of discomfort. Therefore, if you are the caregiver of a senior who exhibits some of these behavioral changes, they then may have a UTI:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Urinary incontinence  
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Back or side pain

Rarely does a UTI generate a fever in elderly patients, but if one does develop, treat it as an emergency. It is a sign of a more serious infection.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A health care provider can diagnose a urinary tract infection through a urinalysis, a test that helps to detect the presence of bacteria in urine. There are also home tests available at local drug stores. However, if UTI symptoms are present and a home test does not indicate an infection, it is imperative to see a health care provider immediately. There may be a UTI or some other infection that requires treatment. 

Doctors encourage those suffering from UTIs to drink plenty of fluids to flush out any presence of bacteria. Older adults are recommended to drink four to six 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Drinking cranberry juice or taking supplements that have the active ingredient found in cranberries also acts as a repellant for unwanted bacteria. 

Depending on age, treatment can span from a few days of over-the-counter medication to weeks of hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. Older adults may be more resistant to common antibiotics prescribed for UTIs, such as amoxicillin. For that reason, stronger antibiotics are often necessary along with a longer treatment period. Fluoroquinolones are the most widely used antibiotic in the United States and are frequently prescribed to treat respiratory and urinary tract infections. The most popular antibiotics in the fluoroquinolones class are Cipro, Levaquin, and Avelox. It is important to use these antibiotics with a level of caution and absolute necessity. Although these medications can be beneficial for treatment, they come with potentially serious side effects. Some of these side effects include:

  • Aortic dissection or tears
  • Aneurysms
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Tendon ruptures that can lead to disability
  • Headaches
  • Skin rash
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Hallucinations
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Insomnia

There are many places such as Drugwatch.com to find valuable information on fluoroquinolones and other drugs that are commonly used but may threaten your loved one’s health due to their side effects. 

Also, consider reaching out to the executive team at Hibernian Home Care, comprised of a Pharmacist and Registered Nurse. They specialize in geriatric medication management in the home. To learn more about the help we can provide, or for our individualized Home Care services in Monmouth and Ocean Counties of New Jersey, Contact Us at 732-481-1148.