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Pneumonia Puts Seniors At Risk | Generations Home Care
a person sick with pneumonia

No one likes a tickle in their throat. But a persistent wet cough can be an even more significant concern for seniors. Pneumonia is a common and severe respiratory disease that affects seniors at a higher rate than any other age group. In fact, it is the second-leading cause of hospitalization for Medicare beneficiaries, accounting for one million hospitalizations each year. Because our immune systems get weaker as we age, seniors are less equipped to fight off this serious infection. Sadly, the mortality rate is 20 percent for serious cases of pneumonia in older adults. 

While pneumonia can be highly dangerous on its own, it often arises in tandem with other health issues. Chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can sharply increase your risk, and 85 percent of seniors suffer from at least one chronic condition. This makes it even more critical for seniors to stay educated, diligent, and above all, immunized against pneumonia. 

What Is Pneumonia, and What Are The Symptoms?

Pneumonia is an infection that affects your lung’s alveoli: the tiny sacs of air that inflate when you breathe. When your lungs are inflamed, it causes symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. Eventually, fluid can begin to fill your lungs, further reducing your ability to breathe. 

Pneumonia can be very contagious and spreads through the air or surface contact. Many types of bacteria and viruses can cause pneumonia, which contributes to the difficulty in treating it. There are three main types, each with different risk factors: 

  • Healthcare-associated pneumonia exists solely in hospitals, long-term care homes, or other healthcare facilities. Older adults in a hospital or long-term care setting are at a higher risk for this type of pneumonia. 
  • Community-acquired pneumonia spreads outside of hospitals and healthcare facilities.
  • Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you accidentally inhale a liquid or particles. The material in your lungs causes inflammation which can lead to pneumonia. 

Regardless of what type of pneumonia you experience, the symptoms will be much the same. A wet cough, chest pain, fever or chills, and shortness of breath are all common symptoms. Fatigue, weakness, confusion, and lack of appetite are also common secondary effects of this disease. If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. Early detection is one of the key ways to protect yourself from more severe outcomes. Catching the infection at an early stage can make a world of difference for your prognosis when it comes to this respiratory illness. 

Other Risk Factors Make Pneumonia More Dangerous

Healthcare-associated pneumonia poses an extreme risk to seniors. Because this type of pneumonia afflicts people who are already in the hospital for another condition, it usually strikes when the immune system is already weak due to injury or disease. Furthermore, pneumonia found in hospitals is often far more virulent and resistant to medication than that which circulates in the community, making it even harder to treat. Pneumonia is often more common in people who use a respirator, making existing breathing problems much worse. 

Healthcare-associated pneumonia may be unknowingly spread from patient to patient by healthcare workers, which means there is not much hospital patients can do to protect themselves. The best way for seniors to avoid healthcare-associated pneumonia is by taking steps to avoid being hospitalized in the first place. 

Hospitalization is not the only risk factor for a more serious case of pneumonia. COVID-19 has also created even more concerns about pneumonia infections in elderly patients. A COVID-19 infection can lead to a particular type of pneumonia that is far more dangerous and difficult to treat. COVID-19 pneumonia causes fluid buildup in both lungs, leading to difficulty breathing, which may take months to overcome even after recovery. Because seniors are at greater risk for both COVID-19 and pneumonia, prevention is of crucial importance. Vaccination against both COVID-19 and pneumonia help avoid deadly outcomes from either (or both) diseases. 

Key Steps For Prevention

The danger of picking up a fatal infection while hospitalized for other causes is part of why it’s so important to avoid ending up in the hospital to begin with. Aside from the high financial cost and emotional burden, hospitals can pose an additional physical risk through infection or medication error. Preventative care such as regular primary care visits is a great way to catch potential medical issues early before requiring a hospital trip. Perhaps most important of all, seniors should make sure they’re up to date with their pneumonia vaccination

Having a caregiver in the home is another layer of protection. A caregiver can monitor seniors for signs of concerning illnesses, so they’re caught as early as possible. They can also help out with essential care such as proper tooth-brushing and medication reminders to help seniors stay at peak health in their daily lives. By empowering seniors to continue living healthy and happy lives at home, caregivers can dramatically cut down on a senior’s risk of contracting healthcare-associated pneumonia. Caregivers can help seniors live life to the fullest and the safest, from the comfort of their own homes.

About Generations Home Care

Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.

Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.

Our Specialty Services Include:

  • Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
  • Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
  • Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
  • Veteran’s connection to care program.
  • Live-in services and couples care.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.

About the author - Josh Friesen

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