Pneumonia is the 8th leading cause of death in Canada.
Pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and results in inflammation and decreased circulation to one or both of the lungs. As circulation to the lungs decreases, oxygen in the blood declines. While cases of pneumonia can range from mild to severe, seniors are much more susceptible to this disease than normal, healthy adults. Similarly, once they have this condition it takes them longer to recover from it, especially those who are frail who may require up to several months to return to health.
If you are a caregiver, it is essential to understand how to reduce the risk pneumonia in seniors, and spot the symptoms should they occur.
Risk Reduction Strategies for Pneumonia in Seniors
- Frequent hand washing is very important. One of the reasons pneumonia is so common among seniors is that it can quickly spread in locations where they meet, such as senior centers, places of worship, or other social gathering places. Many germs and other microbes are spread through touch, and hand washing can dramatic reduce the spread of illness. It is a good idea to remind seniors to wash their hands regularly, especially in winter. At home, post signs above wash areas/sinks to remind the senior to wash his or her hands routinely and use hand sanitizers.
- Keep up with regular dental hygiene. Remind seniors about good dental care. Pneumonia can occur from tooth and gum infections, so daily brushing and flossing ─ or keeping dentures clean ─ is a must. Germ-killing mouthwash is also helpful.
- Immunizations are key. The Mayo Clinic and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute both advise seniors and anyone at risk for pneumonia to get vaccinated against bacterial pneumococcal pneumonia. It’s a one-time vaccine that can prevent or reduce the severity of pneumonia. His or her doctor may also recommend a booster vaccine after five years. It’s also a good idea to vaccinate seniors against other illnesses that can lead to pneumonia, particularly influenza.
- Talk to seniors about smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for pneumonia. It greatly increases a person’s likelihood of getting the disease because it harms the ability of the lungs to defend against infection. Quitting smoking altogether can help at-risk seniors fend against pneumonia.
- Encourage good general health. Good overall health habits are critical to preventing pneumonia in seniors and keep the immune system strong enough to fight off infection. Help them follow appropriate nutritional guidelines for seniors (and any pre-existing conditions), and encourage them to get plenty of rest and physical exercise.
Be Familiar with the Symptoms of Pneumonia in Seniors
The incidence of pneumonia increases with age, and seniors with pneumonia complain of fewer symptoms than do younger people. That’s why it is important that you be aware of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Worsening of chronic confusion
As soon as these symptoms appear, the senior should be taken to a doctor. Pneumonia is a serious illness, so it should be treated as such and strict standards should be maintained to help him or her prevent – or cope – with it.
Comfort Keepers® can help. Our trained caregivers help provide senior clients with the highest quality of life possible to keep them happy and healthy at home. Our Interactive Caregiving™ engages clients physically, emotionally, mentally and socially ─ and provides a system of care that addresses safety, nutrition, mind, body, and activities of daily living (ADLs).
- Assisted Living Today. “Pneumonia in the Elderly – Simple Tips for Prevention and Treatment”. Web. 2015.
- Oxford Journals: Clinical Infectious Diseases. “Community-Acquired Pneumonia in the Elderly” by
Thomas T. Yoshikawa. Web.
- Medical News Today. “Top 10 Causes of Death in the US”. Web. 2015.
- New York Times. Health Guide. “Pneumonia – Adults (Community Acquired)”. Monday, November 2, 2015.