Identifying and Treating Pneumonia in the Elderly
For caregivers of elderly loved ones, there is always a fear of on-going illness. Diseases that impact lifestyle and reduce independence can be especially difficult – specifically the ones that are hard to recognize. Pneumonia in the elderly is one of those diseases with no single cause, no single risk factor and many symptoms that are easy to mistake for other things. When caring for an elderly loved one who has, or may have, pneumonia, it is important to understand what to look for, when to get medical help and how to support your loved one through the disease.
Signs of Pneumonia in the Elderly
While pneumonia can affect people at any time of life, the symptoms of pneumonia in the elderly are often different from other age groups. The most common signs of pneumonia for seniors include:
- The worsening of existing health conditions
- Feeling weak or unsteady, increasing the risk of falls
- Loss of appetite
- Urinary incontinence
- Changes in daily functioning, including the loss of ability to perform familiar tasks
- Drop in body temperature
Because the symptoms of pneumonia in the elderly are more subtle and can be attributed to other health concerns, recognizing the disease is difficult. Potentially, this can result in delays in care, diagnosis and treatment. If your loved one is exhibiting any of the common symptoms, especially in combination with difficulty breathing or chest pain, seek medical help immediately.
Treating Pneumonia in the Elderly
Most seniors require ten days to two weeks from diagnosis to regain their daily activities, but the time period varies and is determined by the severity of the illness and the overall health of the patient prior to the disease. In order to help your loved one achieve a positive outcome, there are steps you can take to support them during the recovery period, including:
- Watching closely for reoccurrence
- Making sure your loved one has a healthy diet
- Closely managing underlying health conditions
- Increasing fluid intake to prevent dehydration
- Allowing your loved one to get plenty of rest
It is not uncommon for seniors to experience reduced functioning after recovery from pneumonia. If this happens, it is important to establish a care plan that will help your loved one regain their independence. Exploring the options for outpatient rehabilitation is often helpful in recovering lost strength and movement.
Preventing Pneumonia in the Elderly
The very best way to help a loved one deal with pneumonia is to make efforts to prevent the disease in the first place. While there is no guarantee, these steps can mitigate the risk of pneumonia in the elderly:
Regular handwashing. Good hygiene can prevent the spread of germs, reducing the chances of contracting many illnesses, including pneumonia.
Making healthy lifestyle choices. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep all help to maintain a higher level of physical health. This makes it easier to fight off infection and, if a disease is acquired, it could lessen the severity of the illness.
Not smoking. Because smoking damages the lungs, it makes it more difficult to fight off respiratory infections, like pneumonia.
Getting both the pneumococcal vaccine and the influenza vaccine. The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for all people age 65 and older. Because pneumonia is a potential complication of the flu, the influenza vaccine is also recommended.
On-Going Care Plans
When you have critical questions or concerns about the health of a loved one, leaning on the experts can relieve the burden. At Highland Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, seniors are supported by dedicated rehabilitation experts. If your loved one has recently had surgery or a serious illness like pneumonia, the team at Highland Rehabilitation is able to provide a comfortable, secure atmosphere that encourages healing and recovery. Learn more about the Highland Rehabilitation community by clicking here or contact us today.