Pneumonia – A (Preventable) Threat to Seniors
Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses. The disease and its symptoms can vary from mild to severe. For seniors, pneumonia can even become life-threatening.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States, about one million people seek care in a hospital due to pneumonia, and about 50,000 people die from the disease.
Seniors are at a higher risk for pneumonia because of their decreased immune response. Similarly, someone may be more likely to get pneumonia after having a cold or flu, when the immune system is exhausted from trying to fend off other infections.
Seniors with chronic diseases are at an increased risk for pneumonia. The potential for pneumonia also rises in areas of increased exposure to germs such as hospitals or nursing homes.
Symptoms of pneumonia vary, but generally include:
- Cough (likely coughing up mucus from the lungs)
- Fever, with or without chills
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath and fast breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain that often feels worse when you cough or breath
- Sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
Seniors may have different or vague symptoms. They may not run high fevers or cough up much mucus. A common symptom for the elderly is a change in the way they think. Confusion or delirium is common.
Don’t let the disease become life-threatening. See a doctor if you or a loved one show symptoms. Waiting may make the pneumonia more difficult to treat. No one will fault you for making an appointment, even if it’s just because you’re feeling under the weather.
The doctor will ask about symptoms, do a physical exam and may order an x-ray or additional testing.
Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia, its severity and the age and overall health of the patient. Mild cases of pneumonia may be treated at home. More severe cases require hospitalization.
Luckily, there are ways to reduce the risk of pneumonia. Steps to reduce your risk include:
- Vaccination – Talk to your doctor about shots for the flu and pneumonia. (Caregivers should also get vaccinated to avoid getting sick and giving the illness to elderly loved ones.)
- Wash your hands often, especially before eating and after being around lots of people.
- Don’t smoke – Tobacco damages your lung’s ability to fight infection.
- Practice healthy habits – Exercise, rest and eating well can all increase resistance to pneumonia.
- Stay away from anyone who has the flu or a bad cold.
Speak with your doctor about your risk for pneumonia and ways to reduce it. They can help brainstorm ways to keep your lungs healthy and reduce risk of pneumonia.
Seniors Home Care helps clients with pneumonia by educating caregivers to cater to their specific needs. Caregivers are trained to spot and report symptoms of concern. They also help clients carry out doctors’ orders, remember to take medications as prescribed and stay hydrated and nourished with healthy meals.
If you have any questions or feel that we could help you or a loved one, please contact us.
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