Pneumonia in the elderly may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and it results in an inflammation of one or both of the lungs. As circulation to the lungs decrease, oxygen in the blood declines. While cases of pneumonia can range from mild to severe, the elderly, along with children and people with weakened immune systems, are significantly more susceptible to this disease than normal, healthy adults. Similarly, once they have this condition, it takes them longer to recover from it. If you are a caregiver, it is essential to understand how to prevent pneumonia in the elderly, and, if the elderly person has the condition, how to help them towards recovery.
Prevention of Pneumonia in the Elderly
- Familiarity with Symptoms – Be aware of the symptoms of pneumonia. Coughing, chest pain, chills, fever and confusion are all signs of pneumonia, as are fatigue, and a shortness of breath. As soon as these symptoms are noticed, the patient should be taken to a doctor.
- Hand washing – Remind the elderly person to wash their hands regularly, particularly in the winter. Many germs and other microbes are spread through touch, and washing hands can dramatic reduce the spread of this condition. One of the reasons why pneumonia is so prevalent among the elderly is that it spreads through community housing, like assisted living centers and nursing homes. Post signs that remind the elderly patient to wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitizers when available.
- Dental Hygiene – Remind the elderly patient about good dental care. Pneumonia can arise around tooth and gum infections, so daily brushing and flossing is a must.
- Diet and Exercise – Maintain good health habits. Work with the elderly person to help them maintain a good exercise regiment and to help them eat more healthy. Good exercise, thorough rest, and nutritious food fend off the infections that open the door to pneumonia.
Treatment of Pneumonia in the Elderly
- Maintain contact with the doctor. After an elderly person has been initially treated for pneumonia, maintain contact with the doctor as he or she heals. Keep the doctor updated on the person’s progress and report any problems or any reappearance of problematic symptoms. This keeps everyone on the same page during the recovery period.
- Remind the elderly person to take all of his or her medication. It can be tempting to stop taking medication as soon as you start to feel better. However, if the medication is an antibiotic, it needs to be taken for the full dosage until it is gone; if the infection is not killed outright, it can return and be even more dangerous later on.
- Allow coughing. Coughing is troubling to the patient, and it can leave his or her throat feeling raw, but at the end of the day, it actually helps get rid of lung infection. If the patient is not getting enough sleep, or if their throat feels too raw, however, a dose of cough-suppressant can be used to reduce the symptoms.
- Expect a slow recovery. The elderly in general take longer to recover from illnesses like pneumonia. Recovery is different for all people, depending on their habits and their care, so do not be surprised if it takes several weeks before the patient is feeling healthy again. Do not rush the recovery. Take things slowly and suggest plenty of quiet activities when the patient is starting to feel healthy again. This is something that many people resist, as they become more and more bored as time goes on, but this is one way to make sure that there are no relapses.
If you are concerned about the health of an elderly friend or relative, take the time to consider how you can help them. Pneumonia is a serious illness, so treat it seriously and maintain strict standards to help your loved ones cope with it.