Pneumonia in the Elderly
July 15 2020
Pneumonia in the Elderly
Aging affects our body’s natural defenses and, unfortunately, weakens them. This leaves the body less able to fend off infections, which sometimes develop into pneumonia in elderly people.
Pneumonia is the infection and inflammation in the lungs, and it ranges from mild to severe. For the elderly, it’s particularly important to spot the early signs and quickly proceed to treatment. Read on to learn how to identify warning signs of pneumonia, avoid complications, and decrease risks to keep your loved ones safe.
Pneumonia in older adults manifests in different ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The severity of illness depends on the cause of the infection, age, medical conditions, and other factors. By catching the early signs of pneumonia in the elderly, you maximize the chances of full recovery.
What are the signs of pneumonia? Here is what you should look out for:
- Sharp chest pain when breathing, coughing, or sneezing;
- Breathing difficulty;
- Wet cough, also known as a productive cough;
- Fever, night sweats, and shaking chills;
- Body temperature lower than your normal range;
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea;
- Mental confusion, i.e., a change in a person’s awareness.
If you’ve noticed several of these signs in a senior, seek medical help as soon as possible. While the symptoms may not necessarily be warning signs of pneumonia, it’s better to be on the safe side.
You should also be on the lookout for walking pneumonia symptoms in older adults. Technically, it’s called atypical pneumonia and is considered a mild case, which feels similar to a bad cold. But for seniors, the infection tends to fall on the severe end of the spectrum.
What Causes Pneumonia in the Elderly?
The air around us may appear to be clean, but it carries many types of germs. What causes pneumonia in the elderly is bacteria and viruses that overwhelm immune defenses and cause lung infection. Doctors also break down the kinds of pneumonia by the causes of the disease and the location the infection was acquired.
Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia in elderly patients. It develops outside of healthcare facilities and stems from:
- Bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae);
- Bacteria-like organisms (Mycoplasma pneumoniae);
- Fungi (Histoplasma capsulatum, Coccidioides immitis);
- Viruses (Influenza virus A and B, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Human parainfluenza viruses).
The other type is hospital-acquired pneumonia that a patient may catch during a hospital stay. And healthcare-acquired pneumonia occurs in people who live in long-term care facilities. These types are associated with higher risks as sensitive bacteria are killed by antibiotics, but stronger germs resist the treatment and grow and multiply.
Treatment and Management of Pneumonia
Hospital treatments of pneumonia in seniors vary case by case. But generally, supportive treatment has an important role in managing the illness, which includes:
- Fluids and other medicines that are given through an IV;
- Medication that helps loosen the mucus and open the airways.
As for intensive treatment methods, they depend on what caused the illness. Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, which target the specific type of bacterium causing the infection. The choice also depends on the patient’s general level of health, underlying health conditions, other prescribed medication, recent use of antibiotics, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) or drug resistance.
Viral pneumonia usually gets better on its own with no particular treatments. However, there are antiviral medications that a doctor can prescribe to lessen the severity or shorten the length of the illness. Patients may also need fever-reducing drugs but only in rare situations.
Lastly, as for fungal pneumonia, doctors will treat it with antifungal medication that targets the specific fungus.
Empiric treatment of pneumonia is based on clinical assessment of each case. Doctors evaluate the severity and risk factors for multidrug-resistant organisms and develop a specialized treatment plan. When caught early and treated appropriately, the prognosis for pneumonia in the elderly is encouraging.
Home Care and Recovery
How long does it take to recover from pneumonia in the elderly? You can expect a recovery time as long as six to eight weeks. It’s longer than recovery time for younger people since it’s harder for seniors to fight off the bacteria that pneumonia produces in their lungs.
By catching the disease early, you reduce the downtime for the disease. Another thing that affects pneumonia in elderly recovery time is the quality of home care. It involves homemaking assistance, which gives the person plenty of rest in order to avoid relapse, helping them build immunity (reminding them to drink plenty of fluids and have healthy meals).
If you’re interested in more information about how in-home care can help your elderly loved ones, contact All American Home Care. We provide needed medical assistance to help in recovery from pneumonia in the elderly and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Tips on Preventing Pneumonia in Older Adults
What else can you do other than watch out for symptoms of pneumonia in the elderly? Here are our recommendations for pneumonia prevention:
- Get vaccinated – There are two vaccines that help prevent pneumococcal disease, and both vaccines are safe and effective. Have a discussion with your doctor about getting immunized and review your vaccination status with them to make sure you’re up to date.
- Practice good personal hygiene – The best way to get rid of germs in most situations is by washing your hands with soap and water. If those are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. These simple precautions go a long way.
- Quit smoking – Smoking causes significant changes in your lungs and airways. It leads to lung defenses becoming compromised, which makes people more susceptible to catching the disease. The risk increases according to the intensity of smoking, but it’s best not to do overall.
- Always finish a course of antibiotics – Even if you feel better, finish a prescribed course of antibiotics (unless a healthcare provider tells you otherwise). If patients stop taking medication before they’re told to, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.
- Strengthen the immune system – A weakened immune system makes people prone to infections from germs that do not often cause disease in healthy people. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet.
Our goal at All American Home Care is to help our clients recover from illnesses, avoid preventable diseases, and lead a better life. We specialize in a variety of services, such as medication administration, assistance in physician-prescribed exercise and diet regimens, transportation to doctor appointments, and a lot more. Give us a call to support your seniors.