Posted on Mar 9, 2020 in Senior Health
If you have an elderly relative, being aware of some of the most common symptoms of pneumonia is sound practice.
As winter has you reaching for your coat and cranking up the heating, it’s vital to stay vigilant if you have senior loved ones still living in their own home.
A quick primer on this illness first, then.
An acute respiratory infection impacting the lungs, pneumonia causes the alveoli in your lungs to fill with pus or fluid. As these tiny air sacs become burdened, you’ll find difficulty breathing with oxygen intake limited. You might also experience coughing and other symptoms sapping both appetite and energy.
Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs.
Ranging from mildly serious to life-threatening, pneumonia tends to most dramatically impact children and individuals over 65. Anyone with existing health issues or a weak immune system is also at heightened risk.
This illness is reasonably common in the US. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 250,000 Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year. 50,000 of these cases are fatal.
Luckily, not everyone needs hospital treatment and the infection is often mild.
Here are the most at-risk groups:
If your doctor diagnoses you, you should follow instructions closely.
Is this acute infection contagious, then?
The underlying germs causing viral and bacterial pneumonia are contagious, spreading from person to person quite easily through inhaling airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes.
You could also catch pneumonia by touching surfaces contaminated with the viruses or bacteria that cause pneumonia.
Fungal pneumonia is contracted from the environment but not contagious.
Pneumonia symptoms can be mild and benign, but in some cases, it can be life-threatening.
Common symptoms include:
You could also experience other symptoms related to your general health and age.
Pneumonia in the under-5s is often characterized by wheezing or accelerated breathing. Often, infants seem to have no obvious symptoms yet they are lacking in energy, vomiting, or struggling to eat and drink.
Seniors frequently exhibit milder symptoms including confusion and lowered body temperature.
With that overview in place, you should feel familiar with what to watch out for in an elderly loved one at risk of this infection. When should you think about calling for medical advice?
If you see an elderly relative or a child of 2 or younger manifest any of the following signs and symptoms, seek medical care immediately:
For some seniors, anyone undergoing chemotherapy or taking medication that suppresses the immune system is at heightened risk from getting sick.
In some older people with chronic lung problems or heart issues, pneumonia can rapidly become life-threatening.
A number of infectious agents cause this infection.
Pneumonia can be classified in 3 broad categories:
Bacterial pneumonia is most commonly caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
This type of pneumonia can also be caused by:
Viral pneumonia is most commonly the result of a respiratory virus.
Typical examples include:
Viral pneumonia is usually quite mild and normally improves in 1 to 3 weeks with no need for treatment.
Fungi found in soil and bird droppings can cause fungal pneumonia.
Here are some examples of fungi that can bring about infection:
Fungal pneumonia most often occurs in those with weakened immune systems.
Beyond the distinctions above, this infection can be further sub-classified as follows:
Aspiration pneumonia occurs if you inhale bacteria into your lungs. This can happen when you’re eating or drinking. It can also occur through saliva. If you have a swallowing problem or you’re sedated from the use of alcohol, drugs, or other medications, this is the most likely type of pneumonia you’ll experience.
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is pneumonia acquired outside of a clinical setting.
Conversely, hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) is acquired while you’re in hospital.
HAP can be more serious as the bacteria concerned are often resistant to antibiotics.
If you’re using a ventilator and you contract pneumonia, this will be VAP (ventilator-associated pneumonia).
Now you’re clear about the various types, along with what to look out for and when to call a doctor, we’ll dial things back. As with all health-related issues, preventive action is always better than trying to cure something once it’s occurred. How can you prevent falling ill then?
Your primary line of defense against should be vaccination.
Several vaccines are beneficial for treating pneumonia.
Since pneumonia frequently occurs as a complication of flu, make sure your elderly loved ones get an annual flu shot to bolster their defenses.
The Hib vaccine protects seniors against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Hib can sometimes cause pneumonia and meningitis.
Pneumovax 23 protects your loved one from 23 kinds of pneumococcal bacteria.
The CDC recommends this vaccine for the over-65s.
Prevnar 13 fights against 13 varieties of pneumococcal bacteria.
The CDC recommends this vaccine for the over-65s.
Although vaccines are no guarantee of preventing any case from occurring, illness is likely to be briefer and milder illness in the event of infection. Vaccination also reduces the likelihood of complications in the aftermath.
There are some general guidelines you can follow to minimize the chance of your elderly loved one developing pneumonia beyond vaccination.
Treatment is largely dependent on the cause of pneumonia.
Was it viral, bacterial, or fungal?
How mild or severe was the pneumonia?
The majority of cases can be treated at home. Up to 4 million Americans contract pneumonia each year with only 250,000 of those hospitalized so the odds of home treatment are reasonable.
If your loved one becomes extremely sick or is at heightened risk, hospitalization can be the best approach. It is recommended to follow the doctors orders.
Treatment is fairly uncomplicated and includes the following.
If you make sure your elderly loved one stays up to date with vaccinations, you should hopefully never witness the symptoms of pneumonia. If you are realizing your loved one needs little extra help staying safe, as well as functioning in other parts of life, get in touch with us here at Landmark Senior Living. We would love to take you on a free tour of one of our assisted living communities when the time is right for a helping hand.