Pneumonia and the Elderly: Understand the Risks

Pneumonia is a serious health condition and is often seen in older people.  Researches show that those over the age of 65 are more likely to die from pneumonia than they are to die in a car crash.  That is a sobering thought, but you can learn to prevent and treat this disease with the right knowledge.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a disease that affects the lungs and can range from a mild case to severe.  If left untreated, it can be serious.  A lot of people do not realize that it is contagious, although seniors most often get it from their own bacteria.

Every person gets bacteria in their mouths and noses, but seniors may not be able to get rid of it.  It then travels down the bronchial tubes and into the lungs where it can cause havoc to the system.  This causes the lungs to fill with liquids and be unable to send the oxygen out that the rest of the body needs.

Risks for Seniors

Seniors are more at risk than others to get pneumonia simply because they are more fragile and can not get rid of the bacteria in their system as well as other people.

Often seniors immune system is not as healthy as someone younger, which makes it more difficult for them to fight off infections. In addition, seniors are more likely to have health conditions that can lower their immune system and put them at a higher risk to get pneumonia.

Any chronic condition that affects the lungs such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD) can increase their likelihood of getting pneumonia at some point in their lives.

Surgery can be a contributing factor for developing pneumonia.  The immune system is already vulnerable after the surgery and then lying in bed can cause fluid to build up in the lungs.  People on pain medication or those bedridden tend to take more shallow breaths; this results in more mucus building up in the lungs.

Signs of Pneumonia

Since pneumonia often follows another illness, it can be hard to recognize when it first changes into the disease and becomes serious.  Here are some of the symptoms you may notice as a caregiver:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath, especially when walking or lying down
  • Chills
  • Lack of energy
  • Chest pain
  • Green or yellow mucus expelled when coughing

If someone has recently had a cold, flu, or even allergy problems or sinus infection, they may develop pneumonia if not treated immediately.

Treating Pneumonia

You do not want to take any chances with pneumonia; if your senior loved one shows any signs, see a doctor as soon as possible.  They can diagnose it with an x-ray and blood test.

There are two types of pneumonia.  The first is bacterial and can be treated with antibiotics.  Viral pneumonia will need anti-viral medications.  Either kind can be treated at home if the case is mild, but severe cases often require hospitalization.

Can You Prevent Pneumonia?

It is recommended for seniors to get a flu shot each year before the flu season starts to avoid getting sick with the flu as seniors may be at higher risks for complications from it. Seniors can also get a pneumonia shot that lasts for several years.

The best way to prevent any of these illnesses is to eat healthy food and get regular exercise to strengthen the lungs.

If your loved one is recovering from pneumonia, you may want to consider homecare services to help them with things they don’t feel like doing on their own yet.  The caregivers can assist with meals and do regular housekeeping; they can also run errands and do the laundry.  This will allow your loved one to focus on getting well.

Family caregivers must take care of themselves as well so they do not end up being too sick to be around their senior family member.  A slight cold or the sniffles with them can become something more serious in the elderly.

At Carefect Homecare Services, we know how important good nutrition and regular exercise are for keeping your senior loved ones healthy.  Our caregivers can help ensure they get the right nutrition, take them on walks for fresh air, assist them with exercises and alert you at the first sign of any problems.  Our caregivers can also take your senior loved ones to the doctor when they get sick to ensure the illness/flu treated before it develops into pneumonia.