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Key Strategies For UTI Prevention In The Elderly

A senior lady is grimacing in pain.

Urinary tract infections or UTIs affect the urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, and/or kidneys.

They’re painful, can lead to complications like incontinence, and happen more in the elderly than most people think.

How can seniors avoid UTIs? Here are some UTI prevention tips for seniors:

  • Take supplements with cranberry or vitamin C
  • Drink more cranberry juice
  • Don’t hold it in
  • Empty the bladder when urinating 
  • Drink enough water

Having had one UTI can increase the chances of another occurring, so deterrence lies in never being diagnosed with one.

This helpful article will explain what causes UTIs in the elderly, how to prevent them, and fluid consumption recommendations. 

How Can UTIs Be Prevented In The Elderly?

The following preventative measures can reduce instances of UTIs in seniors. 

1. Drink More Cranberry Juice

Cranberry juice is scientifically backed as a solution for reducing UTIs in women likeliest to develop the infection.

However, the effectiveness of the fruit juice in other parties is less conclusive, including men and women who haven’t had UTIs or aren’t susceptible to them. 

Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate cranberry juice into a regular diet.

The tart, fruity beverage might benefit vaginal, gut, and immune health.

Further, cranberry juice may promote heart health, lessen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and lower the risk of ulcers.

However, don’t drink cranberry juice if you’re already diagnosed with a UTI.

It’s purely a preventative measure and won’t help treat an ongoing infection.  

2. Don’t Hold It In

Not urinating when needing to go is a major contributing cause of UTIs.

Holding it in can also increase kidney disease risk, and doing it frequently enough could cause a burst bladder. This is a potentially fatal condition.

Going to the bathroom when needed requires having a game plan.

Map out restrooms when leaving the house for a day, such as at a store, a museum or amusement park with the grandkids.

TIP: If visiting the hospital, mention your UTI history to ensure frequent urination as needed. 

3. Release The Bladder Fully When Urinating 

Fully emptying the bladder when urinating can become more difficult with age. Here are some pointers that should help.

  • Take a deep breath into the stomach. This opens the abdomen and releases tension that can make it harder to fully go. 
  • Sit on the toilet (yes, this goes for men too), leaning forward a little and lifting the feet.
  • Never push, as this can hurt the bladder. Instead, let the urine flow naturally, allowing it to take the time required to come out. 

How To Ease Pain From A UTI

Relieving the pain associated with a urinary tract infection (UTI) involves a combination of medical treatment and home care strategies.

Be certain to consult with your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, but here are some general tips to help manage the discomfort:

Medical Treatments

  • Antibiotics: The primary treatment for a UTI is antibiotics. Remember that you must take the full course of antibiotics as directed, even if symptoms improve before finishing the medication.
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce pain.

Home Care Strategies

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps dilute urine and encourages more frequent urination, allowing bacteria to be flushed from the urinary tract.
  • Heat Therapy: Applying a heating pad (get one with an automatic shut off) or warm cloth to the abdomen or back can help soothe the discomfort and reduce bladder pressure. There might be a benefit to using an infared sauna, too, if you have access to one.
  • Avoid Irritants: Coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, nicotine, and carbonated drinks can all irritate the bladder. Limiting these can help reduce UTI symptoms.
  • Urinate Often: Emptying the bladder regularly helps remove bacteria.
  • Comfortable Clothing: Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing and underwear to keep the area around the urethra dry. Tight-fitting jeans and synthetic materials can trap moisture and bacteria, worsening symptoms.

While these strategies can provide symptom relief, they do not replace professional medical treatment.

If you suspect a UTI, particularly in the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, prompt medical evaluation is vital to prevent complications.

What Is The Most Common Cause Of UTIs In The Elderly?

NPR reported in 2023 that 400 million UTIs are diagnosed worldwide every year, with a disturbing rise in cases.

Women are more likely to receive a UTI diagnosis than men, but this condition can affect both genders.

Bearing that in mind, what contributes to UTIs in seniors? The most common cause is age. 

A 2020 publication of the Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians found that one in 10 women 65 and up get diagnosed with at least one UTI per year. 

What is it about one’s age that contributes to an increased risk of UTIs? It comes down to several factors, so let’s take a look.

Long-Term Hospitalization

When a senior spends long spells in the hospital, going to the bathroom becomes less of a concern.

They might not be physically capable of getting up and making it to the toilet, either because of the pain that hospitalized them or the difficulty of moving around while hooked to an IV machine.

Long-term use of a urinary catheter can increase one’s risk of a UTI, another cause seniors must be aware of. 

Constipation

A history of constipation also puts the elderly at risk of a UTI. Frequently experiencing constipation can affect how easily a senior can empty their bladder.

Failing to urinate fully allows bacteria to stay in the bladder and give rise to an infection. 

Incontinence 

Although a loss of bladder control caused by incontinence might seem like a surprising cause of a UTI, they’re related.

In this case, it’s not that the senior doesn’t fully empty their bladder. Rather, having other infections causes bladder irritation, which can lead to UTIs.

Urinary Retention

A senior diagnosed with urinary retention cannot fully empty their bladder, one of the chief contributing causes to a UTI.

Medication side effects can sometimes contribute to urinary retention, so managing medications is key. 

Badly Managed Diabetes Mellitus 

The metabolic disease diabetes mellitus increases blood glucose.

Failing to manage diabetes or mismanaging it can affect sensory and nerve functioning and blood flow, leading to an increased risk of sexual dysfunction and bladder difficulties. That includes UTIs. 

Malnutrition 

Seniors must watch their diets, as failing to get enough minerals, vitamins, and nutrients can lead to UTIs.

This cause is more common in children, but the elderly can just as easily stop eating or eat less for many reasons.

They include a physical inability to cook, a lack of appetite from pain, age-related appetite changes, and medication reducing their appetite. 

Mismanaged UTIs in the elderly can cause a host of complications, among them kidney infection, delirium and confusion, and sepsis, so proper management is critical.  

What Supplements Prevent UTIs In The Elderly?

Antibiotics remain the best treatment for UTIs, as they kill the infection-causing bacteria and alleviate symptoms.

Taking supplements after a UTI might prevent future infections, however. Some supplements might even lessen symptom severity during a UTI.

Here are some to take.

Vitamin C 

Take at least 100 milligrams of vitamin C daily to reduce UTI risk.

Other advantages of incorporating more vitamin C into the diet include:

  • reduction of free radical effects
  • potentially lower dementia and heart disease risk
  • stronger immunity
  • better iron absorption
  • lower blood pressure
  • and more antioxidants.

That said, you might consider eating a diet that includes your daily amount of vitamin C instead of taking a supplement.

Bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, mangos, brussels sprouts, papaya, and cauliflower are good sources of vitamin C. 

Probiotics

Found in yogurts and supplements, probiotics can promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the body and may help prevent UTIs.

Garlic

Garlic is excellent at killing infections, possibly including the bacteria that cause UTIs.

Take garlic in pill form or ingest a clove a day for max protection from UTIs. 

If you are worried about smelling like you are eating garlic, there are odorless garlic supplements available online and in grocery stores or drug stores (look in the vitamin section).

Cranberry

Instead of drinking cranberry juice, swallowing a cranberry pill like this one from Azo might be more expedient for some seniors.

The same benefits of consuming the juice apply when taking a pill, but the pill must be taken daily. 

Uva Ursi

Bearberry or uva ursi is a plant supplement that boosts urine flow, lessens swelling, and reduces urine bacteria. That makes it an excellent option for UTI prevention.

Uva ursi might also improve mucus membrane tightness and act as an astringent. 

D-Mannose 

The monosaccharide D-mannose might prevent UTIs, especially recurrent cases.

It’s also effective in killing other urinary tract bacteria. 

How Much Water Should An Elderly Person Drink With A UTI?

Another effective method for preventing UTIs in the elderly is consuming water.

The recommendation is to drink at least eight glasses of water per day anyway for good health, but those who have a history of UTIs should aim to consume even more.

There is no specific limit on the number of glasses, just drink enough to make the urine clear. That might be 10 glasses of water per day for some or 12 for others.

TIP: Ask your doctor for their recommendation on how much you should drink daily, especially if you have heart, kidney, or liver disease and are required to limit your fluids. Drinking too much water can cause its own health complications.

Staying hydrated can also help to stave off lung and heart disease, reduce constipation, maintain healthier kidneys, improve digestion, enhance cognitive function, and improve metabolism, so it’s worth drinking enough water each day.

Of course, some people complain that water tastes boring compared to the world of flavorful beverages out there.

Here are some tips to make consuming water more interesting:

  • Add a tea bag
  • Add sugar-free water flavoring
  • Keep water cold
  • Incorporate herbs
  • Insert vegetables or fruits and let them steep in the water 

Bottom Line

UTIs are painful and, in some instances, the infection can cause severe enough complications to warrant hospitalization.

Seniors must prioritize consuming enough water, fully emptying their bladder, and going to the bathroom when needed.

Drinking cranberry juice (or taking cranberry pills) and supplementing with probiotics, garlic, D-mannose, and uva ursi might also be beneficial, although these measures cannot treat an active infection. Only antibiotics can do that. 

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