According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), over 60% of seniors over the age of 65 get admitted to the hospital due to pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. Decrease in lung capacity, increased exposure to disease, and increased susceptibility all contribute to seniors being at a greater risk for pneumonia. Typical symptoms, such as chills, cough, and fever, are not as common in elderly patients and caretakers should instead keep an eye out for confusion or delirium. Antibiotic treatments are usually prescribed by doctors for bacterial pneumonia and preventative vaccines are recommended.
Influenza and pneumonia often go hand in hand. A weakened immune system and chronic conditions increase influenza complications, which can lead to the development of pneumonia. Closed environments, such as nursing homes, increase the risk of infection. And just as with pneumonia, common symptoms of influenza (chills, cough, fever) may not present themselves in elderly patients. To prevent infection, flu vaccinations are recommended. Antiviral medication can help reduce symptoms in patients already infected.
Over time, the skin’s ability to heal and resist disease changes. This means that skin infections become much more common. Skin infections can include bacterial/fungal foot infections, cellulitis, drug-resistant infections such as MRSA, and viral infections such as pressure ulcers and shingles. Pay attention to any itching, lesions, or pain that is out of the ordinary. Skin infections are mostly treatable and a vaccine is available to prevent shingles. Practice good hygiene to ward off possible infections.
Seniors are at a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal infections due to changes in gastrointestinal flora and digestion. H-pylori is one of the most common infections and can cause short-term symptoms like fever, nausea, and upper abdominal pain as well as long-term illness such as gastritis. Another common infection known as Clostridium difficile can result from diarrhea that has been induced by antibiotic treatments that have suppressed healthy gastrointestinal flora. Both infections are commonly found in long-term care facilities and are generally easily treated.
Urinary Tract Infections
As reported by the AAFP, the most common bacterial infections in seniors are urinary tract infections, or UTIs. With the increased use of catheters and/or the presence of diabetes, physicians see a spike in UTIs in older patients. Some common warning signs of UTIs include sudden changes in behavior (ie confusion or worsening dementia) or the onset of urinary incontinence. Seniors don’t usually see pain or discomfort with UTIs. These infections are diagnosed easily through a urinalysis and treated with antibiotics. Drinking plenty of water can aid in preventing UTIs.