Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common bacterial infection in women of all ages but the incidence and prevalence increase with age. Despite the high incidence of UTI, little is known about its impact on morale or subjective wellbeing and daily life in old women. UTI in older people can be a complex problem in terms of approach to diagnosis, treatment and prevention because in these patients it frequently presents with a range of atypical symptoms such as delirium, gastrointestinal signs and falls. Even if UTI has been shown to be associated with delirium it has frequently been questioned whether UTI can cause delirium or if it is only accidentally detected when people with delirium are assessed.
The main purpose of this thesis was to describe the prevalence of UTI, to identify factors associated with UTI among very old women and to illuminate the impact of a UTI on old women’s health and wellbeing.
This thesis is based on two main studies, the GErontological Regional DAtabase (GERDA) a cross-sectional, population-based study carried out in the northern parts of Sweden and Finland during 2005-2007 and a qualitative interview study in western Sweden 2008-2009. Data were collected from structured interviews and assessments made during home visits, from medical records, care givers and relatives. UTI was diagnosed if the person had a documented symptomatic UTI, with either short- or long-term ongoing treatment with antibiotics, or symptoms and laboratory tests judged to indicate the presence of UTI by the responsible physician or the assessor.
One hundred and seventeen out of 395 women (29.6%) were diagnosed as having suffered from at least one UTI during the preceding year and 233 of these 395 (60%) had had at least one diagnosed UTI during the preceding 5 years. These old women with UTI were more dependent in their activities of daily living, and had poorer cognition and nutrition. In these women, UTI during the preceding year was associated with vertebral fractures, urinary incontinence, inflammatory rheumatic disease and multi-infarct dementia.
Eighty-seven of 504 women (17.3%), were diagnosed as having a UTI with or without ongoing treatment when they were assessed, and almost half (44.8%) were diagnosed as delirious or having had episodes of delirium during the past month. In all, 137 of the 504 women (27.2%) were delirious or had had episodes of delirium during the past month and 39 (28.5%) of them were diagnosed as having a UTI. Delirium was associated with Alzheimer’s disease, multi-infarct dementia, depression, heart failure and UTI.
Forty-six out of 319 women (14.4%) were diagnosed as having had a UTI with or without ongoing treatment and these had a significantly lower score on the Philadelphia Geriatric Center Morale Scale (PGCMS), (10.4 vs 11.9, p=0.003) than those without UTI, indicating a significant impact on morale or subjective wellbeing among very old women. The medical diagnoses significantly and independently associated with low morale were depression, UTI and constipation.
The experience of suffering from repeated UTI was described in interviews conducted with 20 old women. The interviews were analysed using qualitative content analysis. The participants described living with repeated UTI as being in a state of manageable suffering and being dependent on alleviation. Being in a state of manageable suffering was described in terms of experiencing physical and psychological inconveniences, struggling to deal with the illness and being restricted regarding daily life. Being dependent on alleviation was illustrated in terms of having access to relief but also experiencing receiving inadequate care.
In conclusion, UTI is very common among old and very old women and is a serious health problem. UTI seems to be associated with delirium and to have a significant impact on the morale or subjective wellbeing of old women and those affected suffer both physically and psychologically and their social life is limited. UTI was also associated with vertebral fractures, urinary incontinence, inflammatory rheumatic disease and multi-infarct dementia which might raise the suspicion that UTI can have serious medical effects on health in old women.