Age-Old Disease: Protecting the Elderly from Pneumonia

Most people know winter is flu season, as well as how to prevent the spread of the flu. The majority of us forget about the flu’s more dangerous cousin, pneumonia, and how it can affect those around us. Elderly people in particular are at risk for this disease, and many succumb to it. According to the American Lung Association, elderly lungs are likely to decline quickly from the pneumonia itself and the fluid-filled lungs it causes. Today, we’ll discuss how to spot, care for, and prevent pneumonia in the elderly.

Know the Symptoms

Pneumonia can be bacterial or viral. In some cases, it’s carried through fungi such as mold. The lungs must work harder than usual to function, which causes a buildup of fluid and reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the lungs. Symptoms can easily be mistaken for the flu. Look for shortness of breath, which isn’t usually a flu symptom; pneumonia patients also have a persistent cough and may produce green or yellow sputum. They may feel weak and confused, have a fever, and complain of chest discomfort, as well.

Watch Hygiene

Good hygiene is key to disease prevention. The elderly may have trouble with some aspects of this. Most can wash their hands well for at least 20-30 seconds, but some have trouble bathing or showering because of the slipperiness and height of the shower or tub. Make sure your elderly loved one has easy access to bathing facilities; shower seats, walk-in tubs, and tubs built low to the ground can all help. Remind older loved ones not to cough or sneeze directly into their hands. Instead, they should cough into sleeves or hankies. Encourage hand sanitizer use, especially before and after eating or bathroom use.

Don’t Smoke

Unfortunately, many elderly people smoke, which increases the risk for pneumonia. Lungs that are used to tobacco smoke are also used to working harder to deliver blood and oxygen. A smoker may not equate his or her symptoms with pneumonia until it’s too late. If your elderly loved one smokes, encourage him or her to quit and offer your support.

Get Vaccinated

Pneumonia vaccines are available along with flu vaccines, and the elderly should consider getting both. The pneumonia vaccine prevents about twenty-three different strains, but be aware that it works for a shorter time in older people. For optimal prevention, people should get the pneumonia vaccine in their fifties with a new dose every five years or so. 

Keep Homes Clean

It may be difficult for the elderly to clean their homes well. Even the best retirement communities and care facilities struggle with this kind of maintenance. Elderly persons should always have clean linens that are changed at least once a week. Vacuuming and dusting are key; if you are elderly and have trouble with these tasks, ask for help. Utensils and plates should be washed after each meal.