People become increasingly susceptible to infections as they age. The correlation between growing older and greater vulnerability to infections is due to several factors. Senior citizens’ immune responses are gradually impaired. Certain seniors have a higher degree of exposure to infectious diseases, like when they are in long-term care facilities or hospitals. Medications affect how the body responds to viruses. Plus, the elderly are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions that contribute to weakened states, allowing infections to readily set in.
The American Academy of Family Physicians estimate that a third of all deaths in people over age 65 are caused by infections. Given this stark reality, preventing and treating infections in the elderly is critical.
The infections that attack seniors most often include the following:
- Hospital-acquired infections (nosocomial)
- Urinary tract infections
- Skin infections
How the Body Reacts to Infections
Symptoms of infections can be multiple. Fatigue ensues, forcing the body to get rest and allowing the immune system to optimally function. Fever develops. Bouts of coughing force infectious microbes out of the body and maintain a clear airway. Diarrhea or vomiting occur to reject infectious microbes from the body. Muscles ache. In general, the advancement of infectious symptoms is designed to eliminate dangerous bacteria from the human system.
Bronchitis, bacteremia, pneumonia, and meningitis are caused by Streptococcus pneuomoniae and are types of pneumococcal diseases. Complications result from pneumococcal diseases, and seniors often require hospitalization. The elderly face risk of death at rates of 20 to 80 percent when hit with pneumococcal bacteremia.
Fatalities increase with age and complications. Pneumonia may not result in permanent lung damage, but other organs can undergo damage as a result of complications. Sepsis can lead to organ failure and eventual death.
Pneumococcal Disease Prevention
Prevention of pneumococcal diseases can be achieved with vaccines. A vaccine offers type-specific antibodies. Medical practitioners are confident in the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine as a preventative measure. Vaccines are also more effective when they are given to seniors who enter a long-term care institution or who are released from the hospital.
An additional preventive measure is the education of seniors on the importance of getting vaccinated to ward off infections.
Pneumococcal Disease Treatment
Treatment of any pneumococcal disease includes antibiotic therapy.
With flu season just beginning, seniors are particularly susceptible to getting ill with any of the multiple strains of the influenza A or B virus. In the US, 80 to 90 percent of deaths occur in the elderly out of 20,000 influenza-related fatalities.
Getting annual flu vaccines is the best preventive measure to ward off the flu. Vaccines have shown to be 70 percent effective in preventing the flu, while the other 30 percent allows for very mild flu illnesses (in comparison with unvaccinated seniors). Flu vaccines are critical to seniors in nursing homes and those who have been discharged from the hospital during flu season (fall and winter).
The flu has no known cure. Plenty of rest and hydration are effective in subduing the symptoms of the flu. Over-the-counter medicines can help alleviate the flu symptoms in seniors. Antiviral drugs may be prescribed by a senior’s physician, and should be taken within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms.
Antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines help with symptoms, but should be taken with the advice of a physician. Non-prescription medicines may interact with drugs the senior is currently taking, necessitating a doctor’s approval.
Nosocomial infections are classified as infections that are not present during a hospital admission but that result in seniors after the third day in the medical setting. The longer the senior’s hospital stay, the greater the chance of developing a nosocomial infection.
Nosocomial infections are not restricted to one specific type of infection. The senior population is most at risk for developing nosocomial infections, including surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, and nosocomial pneumonia.
Nosocomial Infection Prevention
Preventing nosocomial infections may be achieved by administering vaccines to both the senior citizen as well as to contacts at home, such as children, grandchildren and caregivers who may expose the senior to illness. Regular handwashing, infection monitoring, utilizing sterile techniques and isolation practices control the spread of nosocomial diseases.
Nosocomial Infection Treatments
The treatment of nosocomial infections varies based on the disease type. Physicians will prescribe antibiotics and recommend adequate bed rest. Catheters and other medical devices will be removed when no longer medically necessary. To facilitate natural healing, treatment includes a nutritional diet, plenty of hydration and rest.
Preventing infections in seniors is necessary year after year, in medical settings and even in the comfort of home. An elderly individual’s physician should be contacted for treatment if a fever persists for more than 48 hours, if a rash emerges, if a severe headache occurs with fever, or if coughing ceases to halt after a week.
Get the Treatment You Need
When medical attention is sought, infection care is critical. If care is provided at home, an in-home caregiver is ideally suited to offer care. Assisting Hands Home Care, a local senior care agency, is staffed with a team of dedicated caregivers, who are knowledgeable in all aspects of non-medical caregiving.
An Assisting Hands Home Care caregiver will remind your loved one to take his or her prescribed medications so that he or she can quickly recover from the infection. If the senior is too weak to cook, a professional caregiver from our reputed team will prepare meals and help with feeding if needed. When the senior in your life needs to visit the doctor for infection monitoring, our caregivers will provide transportation.
Each caregiver at Assisting Hands Home Care is licensed, bonded, and insured to offer maximum peace of mind to clients. Our team of professional, in-home senior caregivers are available on short- or long-term durations. Whether your family requires respite care, 24-hour care or live-in care, Assisting Hands Home Care offers the most flexible care to suit your loved one’s needs.
Assisting Hands Home Care provides exceptional care to the senior population in Hollywood, Florida and the surrounding communities of Broward County. Give us a call at (954) 644-7276 to schedule a free consultation.