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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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