Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and it can be serious when found in an older adult.
The numbers reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that around 250,000 people (of all ages) are hospitalized each year due to pneumonia complications and that about 50,000 of those cases pass away. A large number of these cases are older adults, seniors are at a higher risk of complications leading to death from pneumonia.
If you have an elderly loved one, it is important to know about pneumonia, how it is contracted, and how to take preventative measures for elderly adults.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection of that lungs that causes inflammation in the air sacs called alveoli. Many times the alveoli fill with fluid or pus and this makes it difficult to get oxygen to the bloodstream. This can make it difficult to breathe. Other symptoms include fever, chills, etc.
Pneumonia can be found in just one or both lungs. If pneumonia is found in both lungs it is referred to as double pneumonia. Severity of infection is not dependent on whether it is found in both lungs, rather it is on the patient’s age, overall health, and how the infection was caught.
Main Symptoms of Pneumonia
- High fever
- Productive cough with phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
Pneumonia symptoms in seniors may look different than those listed above.
Some senior adults may have a low-grade fever or may not experience a raise in temperature at all. Seniors may be less alert when sick with pneumonia, show signs of confusion, or have changes in cognitive/mental awareness. If you feel your loved one has pneumonia, it is best to seek medical help immediately instead of questioning it.
How Serious Can Pneumonia be to Elderly Adults?
Those aged 65 and older are more susceptible to catch pneumonia than younger persons. They are also at an increased likeliness to have complications, need hospitalized care, or pass away from the illness.
Pneumonia can progress and worsen much quicker in the elderly. Pneumonia has been found to be the second leading cause of hospitalized care for Medicare beneficiaries. The American Lung Association has also reported that most pneumonia deaths are in elderly adults. The death rate in severe elderly pneumonia cases is about 20%.
It is not yet known why pneumonia is more aggressive in the elderly, but it is believed to have something to do with the natural aging process and a normal decline in the immune system as people age which decreases lung function. It is also believed to be due to the higher number of elderly with underlying health issues.
How Can Elderly People Contract Pneumonia?
This lung infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms. Most cases of pneumonia in elderly adults in America are caused by a bacteria or virus. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia in the U.S. This is caused by Streptococcus pnemoniae that can occur as a result of cold or flu or all on its own.
The flu is also a large reason people contract pneumonia and the recent COVID-19 virus can also cause double pneumonia that causes lasting lung damage.
Complications of Pneumonia in the Elderly
- Bacteremia: an infection that can be fatal, it enters the bloodstream from the lungs and can spread to other organs
- Pleurisy: an inflammation in the pleura membrane that covers the lungs, this can result in a need for surgery or drainage of the fluid on the lungs
- Lung Abscess: this is a pus-filled cavity that develops in the infected portion of the lungs
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): a severe injuring of the lungs that can lead to respiratory failure. ARDS sometimes requires the use of a ventilator to help the patient breathe.
When Hospitalized Care Is Needed for Elderly That Have Pneumonia
A senior adult may have a severe case of pneumonia and need more specialized care and attention when they experience
- Rapid breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Very low or very fast heart rate
If your loved one is recovering from a serious case of pneumonia after a hospital stay a short term stay at an assisted living community may be best.
This gives you peace of mind that your loved one will be cared for around the clock with trained personnel on hand and ready in case of emergency.
Encouraging these healthy habits will help to prevent pneumonia in older adults
- Pneumococcal Vaccine: talk to your health care provider to see if this is a good option for your loved one
- Flu Shot: a yearly flu shot is a good idea as flu is a leading cause of pneumonia. People who obtain a flu shot are less likely to contract flu and much less likely to see complications like pneumonia from the flu.
- Washing Hands Properly and Often: washing hands is the first and best defense for any illness in all humans. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 30 seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, and after coming in contact with high touch surfaces outside the home.
- Diet and Exercise: a healthy nutrient rich diet and physical activity help to boost the immune system and keep lungs strong
- Manage Chronic Conditions: this can include diabetes, asthma, allergies, and more.
- Don’t Smoke: smoking drastically reduces lung function and health
For more information on our assisted living care services in Burien please contact us at any time. We are here to care for your loved ones like they are part of our family.