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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Infections in the Elderly

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoOctober 29, 2018

As we age, our bodies do not have the same ability to protect themselves like they could before. One-third of people over the age of 65 die because of an infectious disease.

Read more about what you can do to prevent and treat infections in the elderly and keep your loved ones healthy.

Infections in the Elderly

An infection occurs when germs known as microbes (bacteria, fungi, parasites or viruses) invade your body. This attack can lead to disease, illness or organ damage.

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Infections in the elderly are a serious health problem because an infection can quickly take hold of the body and lead to life-threatening conditions.

We can get an infection from numerous places like:

  • Air
  • Food
  • Soil
  • Water

Infections can also appear when skin is not intact. Our skin serves as a barrier of protection for our internal organs. When the skin breaks down, bacteria and viruses can enter your body, causing a skin infection.

The Symptoms of an Infection

Depending on the type of infection, seniors will see different symptoms as the body tries to kill the bacteria or virus.

Here are some common types of symptoms that are seen with an infection:

  1. Coughing: Coughing is a way to try and get the infectious microbes out of the body. A strong cough also is used to keep the airway clear, clean out mucous and open stressed lungs to get more oxygen to the body.
  2. Diarrhea and vomiting: Better out than in. This one is self-explanatory. When a system is invaded by microbes, the immune system responds by trying to clear it out as quickly as possible.
  3. Fatigue: Sleep is when the body does the hard work of repairing and recovering from illness. Fatigue is the body’s way of asking (or demanding!) that someone rests so that the immune system can work more effectively.
  4. Fever: Many types of microbes can only survive at body temperature. When the body temperature rises the microbes will die and the body can recover.
  5. Muscle aches: When someone is sick, the body releases chemicals that help the white blood cells to fight off the infection. These same chemicals can make the body ache all over.

The best way to deal with an infection is to catch it early and to treat it effectively.

Ways to Prevent Infections in the Elderly

To prevent illness, it is important that seniors keep their body’s defenses as strong as possible.

Remember these tips for staying healthy:

  • Cover your cough
  • Don’t share personal items
  • Get vaccinated
  • Practice safe sex
  • Prepare your food safely
  • Wash your hands

Seniors can also take these steps to keep the body functioning well enough to fight off microbes naturally and quickly:

1. Eat foods that nourish the body.

Good nutrition will provide the body with the energy it needs to fight off infections, as well as maintain energy and strength.

Pack the body full of high nutrient foods like:

  • Berries
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Healthy fats
  • Probiotics
  • Protein
  • Vegetables

Pay special attention to including probiotics in a senior’s diet such as yogurt with live cultures. Probiotics are the good bacteria that keep the bad bacteria from making a home in the gut.

2. Practice mindful stress management.

Stress has been shown to impair the immune system. When the body is under a constant level of anxiety and worry, we can become worn down. Learn how to manage stress so that the body can relax and recover.

This can sometimes be as simple as remembering to look out the window or take a few deep breaths. Try to make a mental list of all the things your parent or senior loved one appreciates or enjoys in life.

3. Stay active.

Exercise is foundational for maintaining health and fighting off infections in the elderly. There are various theories on how physical activity can keep us from getting sick:

  • A higher body temperature could kill off infections when exercising
  • Exercise may be able to move white blood cells quicker to attack germs
  • Exercise may help get bacteria out of the lungs
  • Exercise will usually reduce stress levels

When we are sick, we need to make sure to take time to rest, but also make it a priority to exercise when we’re healthy.

When to See a Doctor

Keeping the body healthy is important to preventing infections in the elderly, but there are times when it’s appropriate to seek medical attention.

See a doctor if a parent or senior loved one has:

  • A cough that lasts longer than a week
  • A fever for longer than 48 hours
  • A rash or swelling
  • A severe headache with a fever
  • An animal bite
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vision problems that develop quickly

It is often easier to prevent an infection than to try and treat one, so we hope you’ll use these steps to plan how to keep yourself and your elderly loved ones infection-free.

What other questions do you have about preventing infections in the elderly? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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