Drink Up, Old People

I had not realized before that the human urinary system qualifies as “old” as early as age 50. As the bladder muscle becomes less efficient and the immune system less responsive, it’s possible for people like me to have a dreadful urinary tract infection with no fever and sometimes no urinary symptoms! Sometimes the only symptoms are confusion and forgetfulness.

Dehydration is the most likely trigger for a deadly cascade that leads to kidney failure and sometimes death. In my youth, I gave no thought to dehydration. I knew young people who had UTIs and it was no big deal. Over 50, it is a big deal. Two years ago, A friend of mine, age 78, felt puny, didn’t bother to drink much, got a UTI, then kidney failure, and died, all within a week. Another friend, my age, was traveling, didn’t have as much opportunity to drink water, got a UTI, kidney failure, collapse, and luckily has survived. The recovery will take months.

So drink up, old people, water is less expensive than intensive care.

And dehydration doesn’t mean it’s been days since you drank anything. It’s possible to drink a little bit all day and still not be fully hydrated. Naturally, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea will increase dehydration risk.

Watch out for:

  • dizziness and confusion
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Bloody urine
  • Strong or foul-smelling urine odor
  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pressure in the lower pelvis
  • Low-grade fever
  • Night sweats, shaking, or chills

In older people, watch for:

  • Confusion, or delirium-like state
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Other behavioral changes
  • Poor motor skills or dizziness
  • Falling


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