What You Need to Know About Pneumonia in the Elderly: the Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Seniors are more susceptible to pneumonia than any other group, especially during cold and flu season. So, if you care for an older loved one, it’s crucial to understand this life-threatening illness. In this article, we’ll walk you through important details you need to know about pneumonia in the elderly, from its symptoms to how it can be prevented.

What’s Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a respiratory condition that’s characterized by the infection of the lungs. This causes inflammation of the air sacs which then are filled with pus and fluid.  A person suffering from pneumonia often experience a wheezing cough, shortness of breath, chills, and fever.

What Causes Pneumonia?

There are two types of pneumonia: contagious and non-contagious. The former can be passed from one person another through sneezing or coughing. When you breathe in air containing microscopic virus, fungi or bacteria, it’ll cause an infection in your lungs. Non-contagious (aspiration) pneumonia is caused when fluid or food accidentally goes down the windpipe and lounges into the lungs breeding an infection.

Other forms of pneumonia include:

  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia
  • Healthcare-acquired pneumonia (quite rampant among seniors)
What are the Risk Factors for Pneumonia?

There are myriads of factors that contribute to the development of pneumonia. The most common ones include:

Difficulty Swallowing: Seniors who have found it difficult swallowing because of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia or stroke are often vulnerable to aspiration pneumonia.

Age: Kids under 2 and older adults over 65 are more prone to pneumonia

Smoking: Smokers are at a greater risk of contracting pneumonia than non-smokers.

Hospitalization: Using breathing equipment can increase the chances of being exposed to pneumonia-causing germs.

Pre-existing Conditions: Seniors with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and decreased immune system are at a greater risk of pneumonia.

What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

Pneumonia in older adults run a gamut from mild to severe, with the most typical symptoms including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A wheezing cough especially with pus or phlegm
  • Pain in the chest when coughing or breathing
  • Chills, sweating, and fever
  • Reduced oxygen levels in the blood
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
  • Fatigue and prolonged tiredness
  • Increased falls, confusion, and inability to function normally are other symptoms that are particularly seen in the elderly.
How Is Pneumonia Treated?

If you or your loved one has experienced any or all of the above symptoms, please seek medical help immediately. A doctor will order a battery of tests, including blood, CT-scans, chest x-rays, sputum analysis, and lung fluid culture. Pneumonia is typically treated using antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-inflammatories. If pneumonia is too severe, the senior may have to be hospitalized and monitored for a few days.

How to Prevent Pneumonia in Seniors?

The good news is that there are a number of ways you can safeguard your senior loved one against pneumonia:

  • Avoid or quit smoking
  • Embrace a lifestyle that boosts the immune system
  • Get your loved one vaccinated against flu and other germs that can potentially infect the lungs
  • Keep track of vitals closely
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Medical Advancements in Geriatric Care

Medical research provides solutions to age-old problems. Forward-thinking geriatric care facilities embrace opportunities to try new medical procedures and technology that can improve the quality of care they provide to their patients. Four of the top medical innovations that were revealed at Cleveland Clinic’s 2016 Medical Innovation Summit are outlined in this article.

The Microbiome Project

Microbiome research made great strides in 2016. Microbiomes are microorganisms in the body that affect the digestion process, interact with medications, and affect how certain diseases (such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease) progress. Researchers have discovered how to use our body’s microbiomes to prevent lethal imbalances in the body, diagnose diseases, and segue into new therapies. This can mean a huge relief for elderly patients who suffer from digestive issues.

Cellular Immunotherapy

Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies were launched this year. This special therapy involves removing a patient’s T-cells and genetically reprogramming them to destroy tumor cells in that patient’s body. It has been specifically created for treating leukemia and lymphomas.

Bioabsorbable Stents

Metal coronary stents have been used for years to treat coronary artery blockage. These stents, however, increase the risk of getting blood clots and having complications during future surgeries. They also make some scans, such as MRIs, difficult to carry out. The first bioabsorbable stent was approved in the U.S. in July 2016. The stent’s polymer is absorbed into the blood stream after 2 years.

3-D Visualization and Augmented Reality

This medical advancement incorporates technology for making surgeons more efficient. Advancements in neurosurgery and retinal microsurgery now allow surgeons to immerse themselves in a 3-D visual representation of a patient. Surgeons will now be able to use a more comfortable posture to carry out surgeries.
Other recent medical advancements not featured in the 2016 Cleveland Medical Innovation Summit are highlighted below.

Robot Assistants

The infamous movie iRobot, featuring acclaimed actor Will Smith, seems to be forming our reality. There are more robots available now to help medical professionals carry out their task efficiently. The da Vinci robot, for instance, enables surgeons to perform surgeries with fewer invasive cuts. Another example is the TUG robot which can carry containers of various sizes containing medications and lab specimens.
The Artificial Pancreas

Yes, you read that correctly. The mad scientists from Medtronic have emerged from their labs with the MiniMed 670G, a wearable device that instantly supplies a diabetes patient with insulin if blood sugar levels are too low. No more needles. No more time checks. The device does all the work.


Nutrigenomics combines genetic testing and nutrition science. It is in its early phases. However, when it launches participants will be able to send a DNA sample to get their DNA sequence. This DNA sequence can then be synced with an app that tells the user the foods he or she should and should not eat.

Medicine has changed. Each year scientists open new frontiers that can help improve the quality of life for everyone. Are you ready to be a part of the revolution? If you aren’t, you may be left in the dust.

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