It is that time of year again in Pittsburgh. When we huddle close together with loved ones and stay indoors to avoid the cold weather. Being in close quarters, however, can hasten the spread of disease. This is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations such as the elderly. One major illness that can be both common and deadly is pneumonia. With our series of tips, we hope that we can help to prevent the spread of pneumonia in elderly people this winter.
Thankfully there are various things that you can do to combat pneumonia in elderly people. Encouraging excellent senior health is important to us, so we want to do all that we can to pass these tips onto you and your family.
What is Pneumonia?
An excellent start to combating the spread of pneumonia in elderly people is to understand the disease itself. Pneumonia is the general description for an infection in one or both of your lungs. There are many things that can cause this infection including bacteria, viruses, pollutants, and fungi. Pneumonia is typically spread through coughing or sneezing and is common during the winter months.
According to the American Lung Association, approximately one third of all pneumonia cases are caused by a virus. The flu virus, for example, is an extremely common way for your loved one to contract pneumonia. Typically, your nose and airways will filter out any foreign bodies that might cause lung infection. However, if a person has a weak immune system, or if the germ is present in large amounts they can contract pneumonia. Regard pneumonia very seriously if your loved one happens to contract it. Pneumonia in elderly people kills thousands and hospitalizes even more every year.
Who is Vulnerable to Pneumonia?
People over the age of 75 are much more likely to contract pneumonia than their younger counterparts. This is because people over the age of 75 are more likely to have a weakened immune system. Additionally, due to age related illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and COPD, a person can be more vulnerable to contracting pneumonia.
Additionally, pneumonia in elderly people can have much more severe consequences than in younger people. An astonishing 85% of deaths due to pneumonia occur in people over the age of 65. When it is not fatal, pneumonia can still leave lasting results on your aging loved one. If pneumonia is able to spread in an elderly person, it can restrict blood flow and allow for other illnesses to develop. With proper care your loved one can overcome pneumonia in 1-3 weeks.
What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia in Elderly?
Because there are many strains of pneumonia symptoms can vary from person to person. However, there are certain signs that are related with a pneumonia diagnosis:
- Excessive exhaustion or weakness
- Green or yellow phlegm
- Chest pain
- Confusion (rapid onset and outside of dementia)
- Shortness of Breath
You can easily make the mistake of mistaking the flu for another winter illness. Additionally, the confusion that can be brought on by restricted blood flow can be confused with dementia brought on with aging. Pneumonia can be a rapid killer if not caught early in its development. Because of this you should always consult with a doctor if you even suspect pneumonia could be emerging.
How Do I Prevent My Loved One From Contracting Pneumonia?
It is easier to contract pneumonia when a person has a weakened immune system. In order to protect your loved one, you must strengthen their immune system.
Protect People with Compromised Immune Systems
If your senior loved one has a compromised immune system due to a prior illness, ensure that they are completely protected in the winter months. Do not allow your loved one to be in an environment where illnesses are easily spread. Even places we do not often think of, like holy water in church, can be very hazardous when a person’s immune system is compromised.
Have Your Loved One Vaccinated
It is always an excellent idea to have your aging loved one immunized against common winter illnesses. The Pneumococcal Vaccine is especially important as it prevents against 23 different strains of bacterial pneumonia. Experts recommend receiving your first dose of this vaccine in your 50s. After that, you should get a fresh dose every five years. Another important vaccine is the Influenza vaccine. If your elderly loved one contracts influenza, they are at immediate risk of developing pneumonia. Have your loved one vaccinated against the flu annually.
Make Hygiene a Priority
Simple hygiene can be majorly effective against the spread of disease. Unfortunately, due to mobility issues many seniors cannot practice good hygiene habits as well as the younger population. Be sure to remind your aging loved one to wash their hands or carry hand sanitizer with them for some easy and effective sanitation on the go. You should always take hygienic precautions during flu season.
Maintain Good Health Habits
It can be difficult to stay active in the winter due to the cold weather. Walking outside is no longer an option if you live in a place where ice and snow are common. Additionally, we are much more likely to eat poorly during the winter months. Our poor dietary habits happen for many reasons. Holiday meals are laden with fats, sugars, and calories with little nutritional value. Also, when our bodies get cold we crave a high calorie meal to boost our core temperature. These events acting together can be a recipe for a weaker immune system. To counteract the negative effects of these bad health habits be sure to stay as active as possible and to eat plenty of nutrient rich veggies this winter.
Keep Smoking at a Minimum
There are many seniors who smoke, which can be detrimental to their health for many reasons. Smoking is among the worst things you can do for your lung health. With vulnerable lungs, an illness like pneumonia can easily settle in and cause irreparable damage. If your senior loved one has a habit of smoking, do all that you can to keep their usage to a minimum.
We hope your senior loved one can stay healthy this winter.
If your loved one needs help staying active, or could use assistance cooking nutritional meals, our caregivers are here to help. Caregogi has over 2,000 caregivers in the Pittsburgh area ready to help your loved one stay healthy and active during the winter months.
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