How to Help Reduce the Risk of Pneumonia in the Elderly

Pneumonia is a dangerous condition at any age, but especially for the elderly who often have extremely weak immune systems and other medical maladies. Pneumonia is an infection in the air sacs of the lungs caused by an organism like fungus or bacteria. It results in the air sacs becoming full of fluid and pus, which poses serious breathing problems and can severely compromise a person’s health. And unfortunately, a person’s immune system starts to decline after the age of 50, which makes it much harder to fight off pneumonia. Experts have found that certain health and lifestyle factors increase the risk of pneumonia. These include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, cancer, alcohol abuse, and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Since there are so many elderly people in Florida, MD Now wants to warn these seniors and their families about the heightened risk of pneumonia in elderly people and share helpful ways to protect their health so they can live life to the fullest.

The Dangers of Pneumonia in Elderly People

It’s shocking to learn that 90% of all pneumonia deaths occur in individuals over the age of 65. So when providers detect symptoms of pneumonia in elderly patients, they often hospitalize the person because the condition can quickly become life threatening. Sufferers typically need breathing assistance, such as a mechanical respirator that is usually only found in a hospital setting. Patients are also prescribed antibiotics and anti-viral medications. The purpose of treatment is to keep the infection from spreading into the bloodstream, where a fatal condition called sepsis can occur. Immediate treatment is required for the elderly because the pneumonia in elderly recovery time tends to take much longer.

The most common cause of symptoms of pneumonia in elderly patients is pneumococcal bacteria. Plus, pneumonia due to the flu is also a major threat that can cause death in elderly individuals. Pneumonia symptoms include coughing, chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, and mental confusion. But the condition can be easily diagnosed with a complete physical exam, a chest X-ray, and blood work.

How to Breathe Easier About the Risk of Pneumonia in Elderly Patients

Fortunately, there are fast and easy ways that people can reduce their risk of pneumonia.

For one, providers strongly recommend getting vaccinated for pneumonia and flu. This is essential for adults over age 65 and younger individuals with serious underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, or neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease. And anyone who suffers from diabetes—either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes—should also get properly vaccinated.

And since poor lifestyle habits can increase the risk of pneumonia, providers advise the following tips for people who smoke, have abnormal blood pressure readings, or have a history of alcohol abuse:

  1. Stop smoking. Smoking reduces the body’s natural defenses against the viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia.
  2. Malnutrition also contributes to the risk of pneumonia in elderly individuals, so it’s vital for older patients to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Good nutrition can also help diabetics control their diabetes symptoms.
  3. Limit alcohol intake and seek help for issues of alcohol abuse since this can increase the risk of pneumonia.
  4. People who suffer from abnormal blood pressure should try to manage their stress through deep breathing exercises, stress reduction techniques, and medication to control abnormal BP levels.
  5. Ease breathing by keeping the airway clear. Elderly sufferers should always be sitting up, getting a moderate amount of exercise, and practicing deep breathing techniques.
  6. Providers also advise preventing colds and the flu by washing hands often, disinfecting any shared surfaces, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding extensive contact with people in public places.
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