Urinary Tract Infections in Nursing Homes

Elderly nursing home residents frequently suffer from urinary tract infections, or UTIs. These infections can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Unfortunately, UTIs often occur and worsen because of neglectful care. Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide a reasonable standard of care in preventing, diagnosing, and treating UTIs, and failure to do so is considered negligence. Nursing Homes Abuse can act as an advocate if your family member has suffered a serious UTI from nursing home negligence.

Elder and toilet

 Urinary tract infections are a common but often overlooked issue in nursing homes, affecting both the well-being and overall quality of care of elderly residents. Despite their prevalence, UTIs in such circumstances can be challenging to diagnose and treat due to factors such as age-related changes in urinary function, cognitive decline, and atypical presentation of symptoms.

UTIs frequently clear up if caught early and treated within a few days. However, if overlooked, a UTI can spread from the bladder to the kidneys and other organs, possibly resulting in sepsis or even death.

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A UTI is an infection that occurs in any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. UTIs are typically caused by bacteria that normally live in the intestines. However, other microorganisms, such as fungi or viruses, can also cause UTIs.

There are two main types of UTIs: lower and upper urinary tract infections. Lower urinary tract infections involve the bladder or the urethra. Upper urinary tract infections affect the kidneys and are considered more severe than lower UTIs.

What Causes a UTI in Elderly Patients?

Urinary tract infections are a significant concern in nursing homes, accounting for over one-third of all infections. The prevalence of UTIs in this population can be attributed to various factors, including age-related changes, cognitive decline, underlying health conditions, and improper catheter care.

Some of the issues contributing to the high incidence of UTIs in nursing homes and the challenges associated with their management include the following:

  • Age-related changes: As people age, their bladder function can weaken, leading to urinary retention and incomplete emptying, which increases the likelihood of bacterial growth and UTI development. Additionally, the decline in immune function that accompanies aging makes older adults more susceptible to infections.
  • Cognitive decline: Dementia and other cognitive impairments are common among nursing home residents, which can make it difficult for them to recognize and communicate UTI symptoms. Consequently, UTIs may progress undiagnosed or undertreated, leading to more severe complications.
  • Immobility: Limited mobility can make it challenging for nursing home residents to maintain proper hygiene and promptly empty their bladder, increasing the risk of UTIs.
  • Catheter use: Indwelling urinary catheters are sometimes used for nursing home residents for various medical reasons or mobility issues. However, catheter use increases the risk of UTIs, as bacteria can easily enter the urinary tract along the catheter, especially if caregivers don’t follow proper protocols for handling catheters.
  • Atypical presentation: Older adults may not exhibit classic UTI symptoms, making it difficult for health care providers to diagnose and treat infections promptly. Instead, they may present with non-specific symptoms such as confusion, lethargy, or falls.

Many UTIs develop from neglectful care. Poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions, chronic dehydration, improper catheter care, and inadequate assistance with toileting are common causes of UTIs.

What Are the Symptoms of a UTI?

Urinary tract infection symptoms in elderly patients differ from those typically seen in younger individuals. While some older adults may present with classic UTI symptoms, others may exhibit atypical or non-specific symptoms that make diagnosis more challenging.

Classic UTI Symptoms

  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • Pain, burning, or discomfort during urination
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strong-smelling urine
  • Lower abdominal pain or pressure
  • Feeling of incomplete bladder emptying

Atypical or Non-Specific Symptoms:

  • Confusion or altered mental status
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Lethargy or increased fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Incontinence or a change in urinary habits
  • Unexplained falls or decline in functional status

Symptoms of an Upper UTI or Kidney Infection:

  • Fever and chills
  • Flank or back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Generalized weakness

What Happens When the Nursing Home Fails to Recognize the Symptoms of a UTI?

When a medical professional fails to recognize the symptoms of a UTI in nursing homes, several negative consequences may occur.

Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment

Failing to recognize UTI symptoms can delay diagnosis and treatment, allowing the infection to progress and worsen. This can result in more severe symptoms and life-threatening complications, such as kidney damage or sepsis, especially for elderly patients.

Increased Pain and Discomfort

Residents who do not receive prompt treatment for a UTI may experience prolonged pain, discomfort, and distress due to unresolved infection symptoms. Additional suffering can significantly impact their quality of life and overall well-being.

Worsening Cognitive Symptoms

An untreated UTI in an elderly person can cause confusion or delirium, exacerbating pre-existing cognitive impairments such as dementia. This may lead to increased agitation, disorientation, or behavioral changes.

Increased Health Care Costs

Delayed diagnosis and treatment of UTIs can result in higher health care costs, as more intensive interventions or hospitalizations may be required to address complications arising from an untreated infection.

Decline in Overall Health

An untreated UTI in the elderly can contribute to a decline in the resident’s overall health and functional status, making them more susceptible to other infections or health issues. Can an elderly person die from a UTI? Unfortunately, if a UTI is left untreated, the infection can spread to other organs and be fatal in severe cases.

Is a UTI Preventable?

Although not all UTIs are preventable, many are. Preventing UTIs in nursing homes can be accomplished with focused catheter care programs. One study showed that nursing homes following these protocols were able to cut the rate of UTIs in half.

Regular assessment of residents, proper hygiene practices, and prudent use of urinary catheters are also necessary to prevent UTIs and improve the overall quality of care in nursing homes.

What Should I Do if My Loved One Suffers a UTI in a Nursing Home?

If you suspect your loved one has been injured or suffered complications from a UTI in a nursing home:

  • Consult with their health care provider or request a medical evaluation as soon as possible to prevent further complications and promote recovery.
  • Discuss your concerns with the nursing home staff, including nurses, administrators, and the resident’s primary caregiver.
  • Keep a record of the events leading up to the injury, the symptoms your loved one experienced, and any communication you’ve had with nursing home staff and health care providers in case legal action becomes necessary.
  • Stay involved in your loved one’s care and recovery process to ensure they receive appropriate treatment.
  • Consider reporting the incident to your local or state health department, the state licensing agency, or other relevant authorities if you have concerns about the quality of care or believe the nursing home is not taking appropriate action.

Legal Options for Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections can have devastating consequences for older adults and their loved ones. You trust a nursing home to keep your family member safe and provide adequate care when you can’t. Unfortunately, not all nursing homes take infection prevention as seriously as they need to.

If you have a family member who suffered from a UTI while in a nursing home, contact us. Our caring advocates can help you get legal help to recover any money you’re entitled to for medical expenses or the pain and suffering of your loved one.

Fact Checked

Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.