Why Are Seniors Susceptible?
There are certain serious health conditions that we often associate with older adults. Heart disease and cancer are a few that top the list. But one that may not seem as obvious has the potential to be just as life-threatening as others in the category. Pneumonia is defined as a respiratory lung infection caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found there were almost 135,000 pneumonia-related ED visits reported across the country in 2017–2018 — a 13 percent jump from the previous year. Pneumonia was among the top 10 reported reasons that Canadians went to the emergency department last year. Many are 65 years of age and older. But what is it, physiologically, that makes seniors more susceptible to pneumonia than other age groups? A new report says that for the first time in at least five years.
It’s estimated that a third of all pneumonia cases each year result from a virus.
As we age, the efficacy of our immune system diminishes, and our body’s natural defenses become less reliable. This, in turn, makes us increasingly vulnerable to any illness, even if it’s relatively minor. As a result, something as common as a cold or mold spores in the home may lead to an infection of the lungs for seniors. Similarly, frailty – especially from ongoing recovery – can make it harder for seniors to cough and rid the lungs of certain infectious elements. Seniors may also be at greater risk if they have existing health conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), HIV, and heart disease.
Despite its commonality, pneumonia certainly doesn’t represent an inevitable aspect of aging. While there is no 100% guaranteed form of pneumonia prevention, there are steps seniors can take to reduce their overall risk. Doing so can help them continue to live life to the fullest – safely, healthily, and independently.
Ways to Reduce Pneumonia Risk
- Get Vaccinated: Because pneumonia often appears in seniors who have the flu, getting vaccinated against influenza is recommended. Vaccine options include Fluzone High-Dose, Fluad and Flublok Quadrivalent. Seniors should talk to their physician about which is best. Additionally, to help guard against pneumonia, the CDC recommends that seniors get the two available vaccinations: PCV-13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) and PPSV-23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine). Seniors should get PCV-13 first, then follow up with PPSV-23 approximately a year later.
- Prioritize Hygiene: It may seem like common sense, but simply washing our hands and using hand sanitizer can make a world of difference. Seniors should avoid germ-ridden surfaces (e.g., door handles, grocery cart handles) whenever possible, and keep their distance from any sick relatives or friends. As mentioned, it doesn’t take much for seniors to develop pneumonia, so even the smallest of hygienic best practices are worth following.
- Don’t Smoke or Take Steps to Quit: Smoking negatively impacts just about everything in our bodies, but the lungs obviously receive a significant amount of damage. Those who smoke are at a greater overall risk of pneumonia because the lungs’ defense mechanisms often become compromised.
- Practice a Healthy Lifestyle: Seniors should follow a physician-approved diet and exercise regimen. This will help bolster their immune system and reduce the risk of not only pneumonia, but a number of other health conditions.
Comfort Keepers® Can Help
Whether senior clients are recovering from pneumonia or looking to protect themselves, the trusted care team at Comfort Keepers® can help. Our caregivers can remind clients to take medication, provide transportation to scheduled appointments, and support physician-prescribed exercise regimens and diets. Above all, our goal is to see that clients have the means to find the joy and happiness in each day, regardless of age or acuity.
To learn more about our in-home care services, contact your local Comfort Keepers location today.
Aging.com. “What Causes Pneumonia in the Elderly?” Web. 2018.
American Lung Association. “Lung Health and Diseases: Learn About Pneumonia.” Web. 2018.
Everyday Health. “Pneumonia 101: What You Need to Know” by Mary Elizabeth Dallas | Medically reviewed by
Sanjai Sinha, MD. Web. 2018.
CTVNews. “Pneumonia visits to Canadian ERs spiked in 2017-18: CIHI”. Web, 2018.