The risk of developing pneumonia in elderly is higher if the elderly often suffer from chronic illness or weakened immune systems and, in turn, have a more difficult time recovering.
Pneumonia in elderly is often cited as the fifth leading cause of death in the elderly and the most common cause of death in persons with severe dementia.
It can go unrecognized in seniors as they may be asymptomatic due to other medical issues or typical age-related changes in the lungs (ie. decreased productive cough for bringing up liquid/sputum from the lungs).
Seniors are often used to feeling unwell and may not report symptoms to their physicians.
Other factors such as poor nutritional intake and decreased physical activity further impact the elderly in this regard.
In general, the more health problems a person has, the more likely they will develop pneumonia and the more likely it is to be fatal.
Pneumonia is an abnormal inflammation of the structures of the lungs most often caused by bacteria, viruses and less often caused by fungi or parasites. The lungs can become inflamed, liquid can build up in the tissue of the lungs and infection can spread to the whole body.
Pneumonia in elderly itself is not contagious but the underlying cause (eg. bacteria or viruses) can be contagious, particularly for people with compromised immune systems. If transmitted, pneumonia may be passed in the same way as influenza or the common cold: by people's hands and by tiny droplets from their mouths and noses.
Underlying illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, diseases of the immune system, smoking and alcoholism increase the risk of pneumonia. Hospitalization puts seniors at high risk for pneumonia elderly.
As mentioned above, seniors can often be asymptomatic due to age-related changes, other medical issues or a regular feeling of decreased wellness. This can make it difficult for elderly to differentiate additional symptoms to having pneumonia.
The biggest reason seniors are at higher risk of developing pneumonia in hospitals is because of spending too much time in bed. They may also have more difficulty with deep breathing due to pain, fatigue, medications or surgical incisions.
The simplest way for a senior to reduce the risk of developing pneumonia in the hospital is to GET OUT OF BED.
Getting seniors up into a chair, walking, moving to and from the bathroom and completing any functional activity such as getting dressed or grooming at the sink will be beneficial. Being in an upright posture allows the senior's lungs to expand more easily and makes it easy to cough and clear those lungs.
If your elderly parent does develop pneumonia while in the hospital, they may be given an incentive spirometer. This is a small plastic device designed to help take deep breaths. Encourage your loved one to use it often.
Treatment of pneumonia depends on the cause. Once the cause is determined, your loved one may receive the following treatments:
Aspiration is a term used to describe anything other than air entering the lungs, including mouth secretions which may contain bacteria.
Elderly aspiration pneumonia is often caused by difficulties swallowing. Difficulties swallowing may lead to mouth secretions, food, pills or other particles going into the lungs and causing infection. Issues with swallowing are common in conditions such as stroke, dementia and Alzheimer's. Swallowing may also be affected by intoxication.
Recovery often takes 7 - 10 days but can take longer. Relapses are common.
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