Preventing Pneumonia in the Elderly

Learn about the specific risks for pneumonia in elderly adults. Senior Lifestyle discusses tips for preventing pneumonia in the elderly.

The name pneumonia may be familiar to many, but plenty may not fully understand the true extent of this disease’s danger. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one million people each year seek hospital care because they have contracted pneumonia. Pneumonia in the elderly is both common and dangerous. Along with children under the age of 5 and those who smoke or have medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, senior adults are more likely than most to contract pneumonia. Through an understanding of the infection itself and a look at prevention methods, you can better protect yourself from becoming ill with pneumonia.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that affects one or both lungs. Typically it is caused when bacteria, fungi, or viruses enter the lungs and cause inflammation within air sacs in your lungs called alveoli. This inflammation may cause the alveoli to fill with fluid, which can cause difficulty breathing as well as a fever. Common causes of pneumonia include a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae and viruses such as the flu. While pneumonia can be contagious and contracted from these viruses and bacteria, pneumonia in elderly population is often contracted through other means.

Why is pneumonia in the elderly more common?
For one, older adults more often lack the strength to clear secretions from the lungs and respiratory tract that can hold germs. These bacteria can end up in the lungs air sacs and cause infections. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to have weakened immune systems which may render them incapable of fighting off some infections.

How can pneumonia in the elderly be prevented?
The most important step to take towards preventing pneumonia in elderly adults is vaccination. Even if vaccination on occasion does not fully prevent the pneumonia, it still tends to lessen the severity of the pneumonia, shorten the time that the infection lasts, and helps prevent severe—and potentially dangerous—complications caused by pneumonia. There are several vaccines that can help prevent pneumonia, many of which are received when one is young, like the Measles and Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines. However, the CDC recommends that all older adults receive 2 pneumococcal vaccines to help prevent bacterial pneumonia in the elderly. Getting an annual flu vaccine can also support this prevention, as many people who get the flu also get pneumonia.

Additionally, you should maintain typical approaches to good health and hygiene, like regularly washing hands with soap and water, quitting smoking, getting adequate rest and exercise, and keeping a healthy, well-balanced diet.

As stated by the CDC, many people are needlessly affected by pneumonia infections each year, because these infections are preventable. Spread the word and follow the above advice to help prevent pneumonia in the elderly and assist in staying healthy yourself.

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