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Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs are infections of the bladder, kidneys, or of the tubes that carry urine and are quite common in older people. However, they're easily treated and there are steps you can take to prevent them.

What are the symptoms of UTIs?

Lower UTIs

Infections of the bladder and/or the urethra (the tubes which carry urine out of the body) are known as lower UTIs and can have the following symptoms:

  • pain or burning when peeing
  • needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
  • smelly, dark or cloudy urine
  • blood in your urine
  • lower tummy pain
  • loss of bladder control
  • a mild temperature.

Upper UTIs

Infections of the kidneys and/or the ureter (the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder) are more serious and can lead to kidney damage if they're left untreated. Upper UTI symptoms include:

  • a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  • feeling or being sick
  • pain in your lower back or in the sides of your abdomen
  • feeling very weak or tired.

UTIs can cause severe confusion which develops quickly over a few days, especially in older people. These symptoms can mirror dementia-like symptoms, but it's important not to jump to conclusions – if you're at all worried, you should see your doctor.

My 94-year-old father got a UTI and the hospital staff assumed he had dementia because he wasn't making any sense. I had to make sure they knew this wasn't normal for him.


What treatment is available for UTIs?

Speak to your doctor if you're experiencing UTI symptoms. You may need to give a urine sample to help them diagnose what's causing your symptoms. Most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics. Your doctor should advise on how long you should take antibiotics for.

Call 111 if you suspect you have a kidney infection or an upper UTI. The symptoms may include: a very high or very low temperature; confusion; pain in the lower tummy or back and blood in your urine. They'll advise on the best course of treatment depending on your symptoms. If the infection is severe, you may be referred to a hospital for further tests and treatment.

As well as any treatment prescribed to you, you can also take paracetamol for the pain, rest and drink lots of fluids. Seek advice from your pharmacist if you're unsure about the best type of pain relief. 

What causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. This is most commonly bacteria from poo – due to poor hygiene, wiping back to front after going to the toilet, urinary catheters or having sex.

Older people are more susceptible to UTIs due to a weaker flow of urine, meaning the bladder doesn't fully empty. In men, an enlarged prostate can also make it difficult to empty the bladder completely. This can lead to bacteria building up in the urine and bladder.

Women are more likely to develop UTIs than men, as bacteria can reach the bladder more easily in women.

How can I prevent UTIs?

Although it's not always possible to prevent UTIs, there are certain things you can do to try.

What to do

  • Wipe from front to back when going to the toilet.
  • Maintain good hygiene by washing daily using unperfumed soap.
  • Try to empty your bladder fully when peeing.
  • Wear cotton underwear as it allows more airflow than other materials.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – aim for six to eight glasses of water a day.
  • Empty your bladder after having sex.
  • Change incontinence pads regularly

What to avoid

  • Holding on when you need to pee.
  • Using perfumed soaps or talcum powder.
  • Wearing tight trousers and using underwear that's made of a synthetic material.

If you or someone you look after needs help washing, going to the toilet or getting dressed, it's important to get the help that both you and them need.

Find out more about finding and arranging care and support

How do UTIs affect people with dementia?

If someone with dementia or memory problems develops a UTI, they may quickly become more confused or agitated, or you might notice a sudden change in their behaviour. This sudden confusion is also known as 'delirium'.

A person with dementia may not be able to communicate how they feel, so if you notice a sudden or drastic change in them, seek medical advice. Infections can speed up the progression of dementia, so it's important to get help quickly if you suspect someone has a UTI.

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Last updated: Sep 27 2023

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