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Why are the elderly susceptible to urinary tract infections?


(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several articles on avoiding urinary tract infections in the elderly)


Associate Director of Nurses, SYNERGY HomeCare Oklahoma

The incidence of urinary tract infections in the United States accounts for about 4 million ambulatory-care visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This represents about 1 percent of all outpatient visits.

Urinary tract infections are common and affect all ages and both sexes. Nearly four times as many women get UTIs as men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This is because women have shorter urethras than men which make it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder.

Most urinary tract infections arise from one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the bowel.

The geriatric population is at a higher risk and vulnerable to UTIs related to a compromised or suppressed immune system, according to the National Institute of Health. The elderly may suffer from multiple co-morbidities such as diabetes and kidney disorders that contribute to their susceptibility. 

Other conditions that make the elderly more susceptible to UTIs include:

--Urinary retention, i.e. the person is unable to empty the bladder, even if your loved one has just used the bathroom.

-- Advanced age and conditions that affect personal-care habits, such as Alzheimer’s disease and delirium.

-- Women who have gone through menopause are at higher risk because they lack estrogen, which helps defend against the growth of bacteria in the urethra.

-- Use of a urinary catheter

-- Bowel incontinence

-- Enlarged prostate

-- Immobility, for example, those who must lie in bed for extended periods of time.

-- Surgery of any area around the bladder

(Wilson’s certifications include RN BSN MS VR RC CCM)

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