What You Must Know About Pneumonia in Seniors
If you are a caregiver for a senior parent or other loved one, one of your primary focuses, understandably, is on the health of the recipient of your assistance. In this regard, you must have a basic understanding of pneumonia in seniors.
Pneumonia can be a serious threat to seniors. It is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that leads to inflammation and fluid accumulation in the lungs. In 2018 alone, 53,000 senior citizens died from pneumonia and flu. In this article, we present you with an overview of pneumonia and how it impacts the life of a senior.
Symptoms of Pneumonia in Seniors
Symptoms of pneumonia in seniors can differ slightly from those experienced by younger individuals. Common symptoms of pneumonia among seniors include:
- High fever
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough with greenish or yellow sputum
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Types of Pneumonia in Seniors
Pneumonia is a potentially serious and life-threatening infection that can affect seniors. This particularly is the case for older individuals with weakened immune systems. Several different types of pneumonia affect seniors, including bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia, and fungal pneumonia:
Bacterial Pneumonia: Bacterial pneumonia is an infection caused by a particular type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms include fever and chills, a cough with mucus production, chest pain when breathing deeply, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics.
Viral Pneumonia: Viral pneumonia is an infection caused by various types of viruses such as Influenza A or B virus (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, and Parainfluenza virus. Symptoms include fever and chills, a dry cough; muscle aches; chest pain when breathing deeply; rapid shallow breathing; wheezing; fatigue; loss of appetite; nausea/vomiting; headache; confusion in extreme cases. Treatment for viral pneumonia may involve rest, fluids to prevent dehydration, and over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen for fever relief or acetaminophen for pain relief. In some cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed to reduce the severity of symptoms if the cause is a virus-like Influenza A or B virus.
Aspiration Pneumonia: Aspiration pneumonia occurs when a senior aspirates (inhales) food particles or liquids into their lungs, causing an infection. Symptoms include fever and chills, coughing up yellowish sputum containing pus which may have a foul odor; chest pain when breathing deeply; shortness of breath; and fatigue. Treatment includes antibiotics to clear the infection and medications to relieve airway irritation, such as corticosteroids or bronchodilators, if needed, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Fungal Pneumonia: Fungal pneumonia is an infection caused by various types of fungi, such as histoplasma capsulatum or cryptococcus neoformans. This commonly affects individuals whose immune system has been weakened due to age or illness, making it especially dangerous for seniors with compromised immune systems due to chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Symptoms include fever and chills accompanied by night sweats, coughing up bloody sputum containing pus which may have a musty odor; chest pain when breathing deeply; shortness of breath; and fatigue. Treatment involves antifungal medications, usually given intravenously, along with supportive care, such as supplemental oxygen, if needed, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
How to Lower the Risk of Pneumonia Among Seniors
There are some effective ways in which seniors can reduce the risk of contracting pneumonia. First and foremost, a healthy lifestyle is key to reducing the chances of pneumonia. Eating nutritious meals and getting regular physical activity can help seniors stay healthy and strong. Immunizations against common illnesses such as the flu and pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for seniors to help protect them from bacterial and viral infections that can lead to pneumonia. It’s also essential for seniors to avoid smoking and secondhand smoke, both of which increase the risk of infection.
In addition to keeping up with regular health habits, there are other steps seniors can take to lower their risk of pneumonia. For example, staying away from people with an infection or cold can help prevent them from becoming infected. Keeping hands clean by regularly washing them with soap and water or hand sanitizer is especially important when out in public places like stores or restaurants where germs may be present.
Seniors should also get plenty of restful sleep each night; lack of sufficient sleep has been linked to weakened immunity and higher vulnerability to illnesses such as pneumonia. If living in a home environment, it’s important to keep the temperature comfortable—not too hot or too cold—to maintain proper respiratory health. Finally, ensuring that teeth remain clean by brushing twice daily can help prevent bacteria from entering the lungs via saliva droplets created while speaking or coughing.
By taking proactive steps like those described above, not only will seniors reduce their chances of getting pneumonia, but they will also be creating a foundation for good overall health. Staying aware of potential risks while practicing positive lifestyle habits will go a long way toward helping seniors maintain their vitality into their Golden Years.
Pneumonia Vaccine and Seniors
The importance of the pneumonia vaccine for seniors cannot be overstated. For those 65 and older, a single shot of the quadrivalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Control and Prevention. It targets four common types of bacteria that lead to pneumonia, bacteremia, meningitis, and ear infections.
The best way to protect against pneumonia is vaccination. Vaccination can help reduce the risk of illness by working with your natural defenses to build immunity against certain diseases. The quadrivalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against four strains of pneumococcal bacteria that cause approximately 80 cases in seniors aged 65 and over. This type of vaccine helps build up protection against invasive diseases caused by these bacteria, in addition to preventing milder forms of the disease like ear infections or sinus infections associated with bacterial pneumonia.
Seniors should consider getting vaccinated if they haven’t already been vaccinated for pneumonia, as it will help reduce their risk for severe illness from the disease. Seniors need to talk to their doctor about which vaccinations are right for them based on their lifestyle and health status, including age and any underlying conditions they may have. The CDC recommends that all adults 65 years and older get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease as soon as possible after turning 65 years old, as well as yearly flu shots starting at 50 years old; this will help ensure they are protected from pneumococcal disease and other preventable illnesses like influenza or meningitis that can lead to serious complications in elderly populations due to weakened immune systems.
It is important for family members of seniors to speak with their loved ones’ doctor about which vaccinations may be appropriate based on age, health status, and lifestyle considerations since many elderly individuals might not be aware of all the available options or understand why they should get vaccinated to protect themselves from potentially life-threatening illnesses like bacterial pneumonia. Family members should also encourage their elderly relatives to talk with their healthcare provider about any questions or concerns regarding vaccinations so that everyone involved can decide what vaccination regimens are best suited for each senior citizen’s specific needs.