PLYMOUTH — As people age, the body’s natural defenses become less reliable. As a result, seniors are more susceptible to infections, including pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that affects one or both lungs and can range from mild to severe. For some, pneumonia can be fatal. It is typically caused when bacteria, fungi, or viruses enter the lungs and cause inflammation.
Why Pneumonia is More Common in Seniors
- Changes to the lungs during aging. 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, especially if they’ve gone through chemotherapy, had an organ or bone marrow transplant, or have taken certain medications for an extended period of time.
- Senior health conditions. Some conditions can put seniors at a higher risk, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, HIV, cystic fibrosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Surgery can also expose seniors to infections.
Signs of Pneumonia
Symptoms can include coughing, fever, chills, shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, fatigue, and the sudden worsening of a cold or the flu.
Typically, a physician will do a chest X-ray or blood test to determine if a senior has pneumonia. In addition to medication, doctors may give the patient fluids, oxygen, pain relief and medical support.
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. Everyone 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.
- Take steps to quit smoking. Smoking negatively impacts health in many ways, and the lungs receive a significant amount of damage. Those who smoke are at a greater overall risk of pneumonia, because as lungs’ defense mechanisms become compromised.
- Practice a healthy lifestyle. Seniors should follow a physician-approved diet and exercise regimen. This will help bolster the immune system to reduce the risk pneumonia.
Comfort Keepers Can Help
Whether senior clients are recovering from pneumonia or looking to protect themselves, the trusted care team at Comfort Keepers can help. Caregivers remind clients to take medication, provide transportation to scheduled appointments, and support physician-prescribed exercise regimens and diets.