Keep your senior loved ones safe from serious respiratory infection this year by following these five simple tips.
As the weather gets colder and wetter, we’re starting to hear a lot about flu season—but it’s also important to stay informed about another infection that’s potentially dangerous for our older loved ones: pneumonia. Pneumonia can originate from bacteria, viruses, or other causes, but regardless of the cause of infection, it is one of the most common ailments in older adults. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, more than 60 percent of seniors over 65 get admitted to hospitals due to pneumonia.
In fact, those over 65 are more susceptible to pneumonia, and this is due to a variety of reasons, including changes in lung capacity that occur with age, increased exposure to disease in community settings, and the presence of predisposing conditions like cardiopulmonary disease or diabetes.
1. Know the Symptoms of Pneumonia in the Elderly
There are challenges to the diagnosis of pneumonia in seniors because they may not suffer the classic symptoms like fever, chills and cough, according to the Infectious Disease Clinics of North America. Keep an eye out for non respiratory symptoms like weakness, confusion, delirium, or dizziness, or other, more vague symptoms—especially in those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which can impair the accurate reporting of pneumonia symptoms. Also, it may be more difficult to notice pneumonia symptoms in seniors with preexisting conditions, so be alert to any changes in your loved one’s health, and see a doctor if any unusual symptoms occur.
2. Practice Good Hygiene Habits
Ordinary respiratory infections, colds, and influenza can sometimes lead to pneumonia; the Mayo Clinic advises that you wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of these illnesses. Other types of infections, like oral or dental infections, can also lead to pneumonia, so good dental hygiene is a must. Lastly, if you want to prevent pneumonia in elderly loved ones, make sure you help them avoid others who are ill, whether it’s routine illnesses like colds, flu, and respiratory infections, or more serious diseases like measles or chickenpox. All of these can lead to pneumonia.
3. Make Sure Seniors Get Immunized
The Mayo Clinic and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute both advise seniors and others at risk for pneumonia to get vaccinated against bacterial pneumococcal pneumonia. It’s a one-time vaccine that can prevent or reduce the severity of pneumonia. Your doctor may also suggest a booster vaccine after 5 years. It’s also a good idea to vaccinate seniors against other illnesses that can lead to pneumonia, particularly influenza.
4. Don’t Smoke
Smoking is a major risk factor for pneumonia—it greatly increases a person’s likelihood of getting the disease, because it harms the ability of the lungs to defend against infection. Quitting smoking can help at-risk seniors defend against pneumonia.
5. Stay in Good General Health
Good overall health habits are critical to preventing pneumonia in seniors and in everybody, because they keep the immune system strong and able to fight off infection. Make sure your loved one follows appropriate nutrition guidelines for seniors, as well as getting plenty of rest and physical exercise.
Feel free to share your tips for preventing winter illness in the comments below.