Battling Pneumonia in the Elderly

By Lucy Wyndham, Caregiver Connection


Pneumonia among seniors may be common, but it can have severe consequences, causing almost 51,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. The illness is a particularly big worry among the elderly, because this group can have a weakened immune system and other differences that make them more susceptible to contagion. In this post, we discuss the causes and signs of pneumonia in the elderly, and discover how to prevent it through specific measures, including staying connected to vital information, vaccination, and lifestyle changes.

The Nature of Pneumonia - Types, Causes and Symptoms

Pneumonia is a term used to describe a category of lung infections which may be caused by bacteria or by viruses. Symptoms vary from person to person but they can include a high fever, rapid breathing, headache, lethargy, a sharp stabbing pain when inhaling oxygen, chills and sweating. Less common symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Bacterial pneumonia tends to present more severe and longer-lasting symptoms though both types of pneumonia require diagnosis and treatment. Additional, less common types of pneumonia include bronchial pneumonia (involving inflammation of the bronchi), lobar pneumonia (in which one or more of lobes become inflamed) and double pneumonia (when infection is present in both lungs).

Why are Seniors at a Higher Risk of Pneumonia?

Elderly persons in nursing homes are particularly susceptible to pneumonia because they can have impaired immune systems owing to their age (the risk can increase if they are recovering from surgery). Contributing factors also include chronic obstructive lung diseases, use of a nasogastric tube, and dysphagia (having difficulty swallowing). Because immune systems can be weaker in the elderly, it can be easier for pneumonia to spread within a care setting. Another important reason why the elderly are so susceptible to lung infections is the physiological changes they undergo - for instance, the lungs lose elasticity and the strength of respiratory muscles decline. The cough reflex, too, is weaker in this group.

What Strategies Should be Taken?

Carers and family members should be aware of the symptoms of pneumonia, so that elderly patients can receive a diagnosis and treatment immediately. Usually, diagnosis will involve a blood test, CAT scan and sometimes, additional tests. Doctors need to determine whether the infection has a viral or bacterial source, in order to administer the appropriate medication. Sometimes, hospitalization is necessary - this is especially true when oxygen levels are so low that patients require the use of oxygen machines and intravenous medication. Information is also key; many people aged 60+ are embracing the Internet age, opening social media pages to keep up with friends who live far away, and using the Internet as a research tool. Nursing homes with computer facilities should encourage residents to gain information on pneumonia and other illnesses they may be more prone to, so they can take preventive measures.

In the case of pneumonia, prevention is certainly better than cure. Seniors should get the yearly pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, and practice strict hygiene on a daily basis - this means washing hands frequently, especially after using the restroom and before eating. Finally, they should refrain from smoking, which significantly increases their pneumonia risk.

Pneumonia is a serious, life-threatening infection which affects those with weakened immune systems strongly. Families and health professionals therefore need to be on the alert for possible symptoms, ensure their loved ones receive the pneumonia vaccine, and encourage the adoption of healthy habits, to keep it at bay.


How to Beat the Heat Stroke – A Guide for Seniors

From Steve Johnson of Public Health Library


One of the most controversial debates in recent history has been over the topic of global warming. Regardless of whether or not you believe in climate change or global warming, there’s no denying that some areas have seen a relatively mild fall and winter. For the past few years, we have experienced a rise in record-breaking temperatures above and beyond anything previously recorded.

This temperature increase has led some individuals to worry about whether senior adults will be left vulnerable to heat stroke (or worse) on hot days. Age is a factor in many heat-related illnesses, this doesn’t mean seniors have to stay indoors or limit their enjoyable experiences. Although fall is officially upon us, the risk for heat stroke is still present. Seniors can enjoy the warm and cool combo without falling victim to the elements. Here are some tips for how to have a happy, healthy outdoor experience at any age:

Stay hydrated. Few seniors drink enough water each day, reaching instead for soda or tea. It also doesn’t help that as we age, physiological changes within the body can limit our ability to perceive thirst - and many medications can contribute to dehydration.

Beat the heat. Take care not to allow increased temperatures to shorten your life expectancy. Because every situation is different, seniors should talk to their doctors about how to protect their health. See how your medications might be affected by the heat. Ask whether any of your medications might put you at greater risk of dehydration, heart conditions, or overheating.

Consider your clothing. People of all ages should also take proper safety precautions before going outside. Always wear sunscreen, and consider wearing a hat. Keep in mind that although the temperature may be cool and the sun hidden behind clouds, UV rays are still shining, meaning you are still vulnerable to sunburn and heat stroke. Consider wearing light-colored cotton clothing, as the breathable fabric is more naturally cooling, and dress in layers so you can adjust your comfort level accordingly. Because harmful UV rays can damage your vision as well as your skin, it is important to wear UV protective sunglasses when outdoors.

Ask for help. It’s tempting to stay indoors to avoid the heat and the cold. Unfortunately, that leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation for many seniors. One solution is to ask for help from your loved ones. See if family and friends will stop by for extra visits or assist with grocery deliveries and other errands during the day.

Utilize local services. Check to see if your local area offers services assisting with tasks that are especially difficult for seniors, such as mowing the lawn or delivering groceries. If you’re a pet owner, you might also consider hiring a professional dog walker. These types of services can be literal life savers, allowing seniors to stay safe and cool indoors rather than going outside and risking exhaustion and overheating.

Thanks to the tips above, seniors don’t have to dread the warm temperatures. There’s no reason why people of any age can’t get outside and enjoy the fresh air. With your doctor’s blessing and some safety precautions, you can enjoy a safe and happy outdoor experience.

Steve Johnson is a health nut and wants to use his writing to make the world a healthier place. As co-creator of PublicHealthLibrary, Steve enjoys helping people find the health and medical information they need most.

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