Pneumonia can wreak havoc on the body of an otherwise healthy person, but for the elderly and very young, pneumonia can be outright deadly. With over 5.9 million elderly in Canada (that’s more than the number of people under the age of 14), this disease is a growing health risk for many. Here’s what you need to know about pneumonia and its impact on the elderly.
Dangers of Pneumonia
Many of us have anecdotal evidence of a loved one’s battle with the condition. In fact, pneumonia is the 8th leading cause of death in the country and occurs when materials like bacteria or fungi result in inflammation and decreased circulation to the lungs. Because circulation to the lungs decreases, oxygen in the blood declines, sometimes requiring as many as several months to heal.
It poses great danger in and of itself because of how it weakens the body and leads to or worsens frailty, which in turn increases the risk of death. More recently, a link between pneumonia and heart disease has also been found. If an elderly person is hospitalized with pneumonia, he or she is at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, with the highest risk in the first year and risk lasting as long as ten years after hospitalization.
Steps can be taken to decrease a person’s risk of pneumonia. Frequent hand washing, for example, is vital, as the airborne bacteria and viruses that lead to pneumonia are often found in places such as senior centers and places of worship. Posting gentle reminders and placing hand sanitizer in key places can dramatically help increase health.
The following measures can also be taken:
- Get immunized. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute advises seniors to get vaccinated against bacterial pneumococcal pneumonia with a one-time vaccine. Seniors can also be vaccinated against things like influenza, which lead to pneumonia.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is a huge risk factor for pneumonia and quitting can be one of the best ways to defend seniors from the disease.
- Maintain good oral health. Gum or tooth infections can lead to pneumonia, so brushing and flossing teeth regularly and using germ-killing mouthwash can help limit risk.
It’s important to be aware of pneumonia symptoms so that swift treatment can be enacted. Symptoms of pneumonia in seniors including coughing, chest pain, chills, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and delirium or confusion. If you see these symptoms, the person should be taken to the doctor immediately.
Pneumonia can be deadly. Understanding the disease and its risk factors and prevention measures are vital for anyone with a loved one who is elderly, or for anyone who is a paid or unpaid caretaker for an elderly person.