There are many benefits that come with getting older, and there are also factors to be aware of when it comes to our health and wellness.
As we age our body’s natural defenses become less reliable and as a result, seniors are more susceptible to infection – including pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that affects one or both lungs and can range from mild to severe.
The additional steps that older adults take to protect their health can have long-lasting physical and mental effects. And staying healthy is the best way for seniors to continue living the highest quality of life.
Why Pneumonia is More Common in Seniors
Changes to the lungs as we age: Because of changes to the respiratory system that happen with age, seniors can’t always effectively clear secretions as well from their lungs. Those secretions can go down into bronchial tubes, causing the infection.
Weakened immune systems: A senior’s immune system has a harder time fighting off infection. And, some health issues can an even greater negative effect on a senior’s ability to fight off an infection – issues like an organ or bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy (treatment for cancer), or long-term steroid use.
Senior health conditions: Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, chemotherapy, and HIV put seniors at a higher risk for pneumonia, as well as cystic fibrosis, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and bronchiectasis. Surgery can also expose seniors to infections that can lead to pneumonia.
Signs of Pneumonia
Symptoms can include coughing, fever, chills, shortness of breath, chest pain, green or yellow sputum that comes up during coughing, fatigue, and the sudden worsening of a cold or the flu.
Typically, a physician will do a chest X-ray and/or blood test to determine if a senior has pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia, it is usually treated with antibiotics. If the infection is viral, an anti-viral medicine may be prescribed. In addition to medication, doctors may give the patient fluids, oxygen, pain relief and medical support. They also may recommend to try a portable oxygen concentrator.
Reducing the Risk of Pneumonia in Seniors
Seniors should discuss pneumonia prevention with their physician to determine the best plan. Some options to help reduce the risk of pneumonia include:
- Get vaccinated. All people over age 65 should get an annual flu shot, as well as a pneumococcal vaccine, a one-time shot that protects against the pneumococcus, or pneumonia bacteria.
- Practice good hygiene: Wash hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t Smoke or Take Steps to Quit: Smoking negatively impacts just about everything in our bodies, but the lungs obviously receive a significant amount of damage. Those who smoke are at a greater overall risk of pneumonia because the lungs’ defense mechanisms become compromised.
- Practice a Healthy Lifestyle: Seniors should follow a physician-approved diet and exercise regimen. This will help bolster their immune system and reduce the risk of pneumonia.
By Martha Swats, Owner/Administrator, Comfort Keepers
About Comfort Keepers
Comfort Keepers is a leader in providing in-home care consisting of such services as companionship, transportation, housekeeping, meal preparation, bathing, mobility assistance, nursing services, and a host of additional items all meant to keep seniors living independently worry free in the comfort of their homes. Comfort Keepers have been serving New Hampshire residents since 2005. Let us help you stay independent. Please call 603-536-6060 or visit our website at nhcomfortkeepers.com for more information.
American Thoracic Society. “Top 20 Pneumonia Facts.”
Mayo Clinic. “Pneumonia -Symptoms and Causes.”
Web MD. “What is Bacterial Pneumonia.”
Aging.com. “What Causes Pneumonia in the Elderly?”
American Lung Association. “Lung Health and Diseases: Learn About Pneumonia.”
Everyday Health. “Pneumonia 101: What You Need to Know.”