Pneumonia in the elderly can be a serious illness. It is commonly cited as the fifth leading cause of death in seniors. Many times, a senior may have pneumonia and not recognize the signs or understand that they have an illness that needs to be treated.
Seniors are often conditioned to not feeling well on a regular basis and may mistake their symptoms of pneumonia as a sign of getting older when in actuality they are very sick. If left untreated, pneumonia in seniors can lead to more serious health concerns and can create more complicated medical conditions as a result.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is caused by a bacteria or virus that infects the lungs. This causes inflammation of the lungs and allows liquid to build up in the lung tissue, making it hard to breathe. In a senior, it can be difficult to cough up this mucus and make it potentially dangerous to their health if left untreated.
Seniors can develop viral, bacterial or aspiration pneumonia. A senior that suffers from these types of pneumonia may experience symptoms such as:
- Pains in the chest
- Trouble breathing
- High pulse rate
- Decreased appetite
- Bluish lips
- High body temperature
- Pain in the muscles
- Coughing up blood
- Loss of breath
- Coughing bouts
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain
It is important to note that a senior that has pneumonia may have trouble completing mental tasks. They may become confused and even get to the point of delirium. They will have trouble thinking clearly and will become confused easily without warning.
A senior that has another medical condition can be adversely affected if they develop pneumonia. This can cause their medical condition to worsen, making it harder to recover.
Pneumonia in seniors is passed much like a regular cold through germs in the hands or mouth and nose liquid. Antibiotics can help prevent the bacteria from spreading and prevent a senior from being contagious.
How Serious Is Pneumonia In The Elderly?
Pneumonia in seniors is a serious issue. It can exacerbate an illness that they already have and can cause death if left untreated. It can easily develop when a parent is being treated in a hospital for another medical condition.
As a senior continues to lie in bed in a hospital for an extended period of time, it can make it more difficult for them to breathe and more susceptible to pneumonia. Their lungs are not able to expand fully, making it critical that your parent gets up and moving as much as possible during their hospital stay.
Seniors can also develop aspiration pneumonia when they are afflicted with a stroke, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. With these conditions, it can be difficult for a senior with pneumonia to swallow food or pills causing it to make its way into the lungs. Here, it can cause a bacterial infection, making the elderly very ill and in need of treatment.
When pneumonia in the elderly is detected, treatment typically includes the use of antibiotics as well as breathing treatments to reduce secretions in the lungs. Coughing will be promoted to encourage the senior with pneumonia to produce mucus to clear up the lungs. Additional use of corticosteroids may be used in aspiration pneumonia as a treatment option.
Pneumonia In The Elderly Survival Rates
While an individual that develops pneumonia typically needs seven to 10 days to recover, the time for a senior with pneumonia may be much longer if at all. There is a high rate of mortality with pneumonia in the elderly. As much as 30 percent of individuals that are treated in a hospital for pneumonia die from it.
The elderly have a harder time recovering from pneumonia versus a younger person that develops the illness. Elderly individuals with compromised immune systems are most at risk of developing the infection.
Other medical conditions and risk factors that make seniors more susceptible to developing pneumonia include:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Kidney disease
- Spleen disease
- Reduced immune system
- Difficulties swallowing
- Inability to cough
- Poor dental care
- History of pneumonia
Pneumonia In The Elderly Recovery Time
When you are caring for a senior with pneumonia, you can expect a recovery time as long as six to eight weeks. This increased recovery time is due to the weakened state of the elderly with the illness and their body’s inability to fight off the bacteria that pneumonia produces in their lungs.
Like most illnesses, treating pneumonia in the elderly as soon as the first symptoms occur can increase the likelihood of recovery as well as reduce the downtime for the disease. Waiting for treatment for a senior with pneumonia can increase the symptoms and seriousness of the illness, making them less likely to recover.
Pneumonia that goes untreated can develop into other medical conditions such as bacteria in the blood or throughout the body. This can be quite serious in an older adult and make it harder for a senior to recover from the illness. A total of one-third of the adults that are treated for pneumonia are 65 or older, making it a difficult condition to recover from for some seniors. Many seniors require a hospital stay when they contract pneumonia and have a long recovery period as a result.
Preventing Pneumonia In The Elderly
Preventing pneumonia in seniors can occur through pneumococcal vaccinations. These vaccinations can make it harder for a senior to develop pneumonia and if they were to develop the illness, these vaccinations can make the symptoms and recovery timeless.
A senior may also want to get an influenza vaccination as the flu can also develop into pneumonia. These vaccinations can help prevent a senior from contracting pneumonia and allow their body to develop a strong enough immune system to fight the illness if it develops.
Watch for the signs of pneumonia in your parent to help get them the treatment they need as soon as possible. Quick treatment can reduce recovery time and allow a senior to recuperate without complication.