Caregiver Blog: Pneumonia in the Elderly: What Caregivers Need to Know

Article Categories: Diseases and Conditions & Caregiver Skills

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung caused by either a virus or a bacterium. The lungs fill with fluid which makes breathing difficult. A person with a lung infection develops fever, chills, and a cough with yellowish or greenish sputum.

Did you know that, after getting sick with pneumonia, it generally takes 6-8 weeks before a patient can return to their normal level of functioning and well-being? What about in the case of older people with pneumonia?

According to the American Thoracic Society, older people are at risk of developing pneumonia and are more likely to die from the disease if they become sick. This means that they have a hard time recovering from the disease.

This fact must be eye-opening for caregivers who take care of older persons. Caregivers must have a good grasp on what pneumonia is and how it affects the elderly, so they can care for these patients more efficiently and increase their chances of a fast recovery.

Older people easily get sick with pneumonia and have a hard time recovering for several reasons.

1. Aging causes changes in the lungs that enable an infection to develop.

2. Older people have weakened immune systems.

3. They have other health problems, such as heart conditions, diabetes, or hypertension.

4. Older people may be experiencing pain which makes them hesitant to take deep breaths.

5. They may be taking medications that have many side-effects.

Caregivers play a very important role as the first person who would notice if the patient may be developing a lung infection, because they spend a lot of time at the bedside. It is likely that the patient will tell them they are not feeling well. Additionally, caregivers take body temperatures, so a spike in the thermometer reading should raise a red flag and compel caregivers to report to the supervisor. They are also able to see them coughing up sputum.

But one thing that most caregivers fail to do is to prevent it from happening. Those who care for the elderly need to do everything they can to prevent patients from developing pneumonia, because once the disease starts, the possibility of complications is significant and the chance of a full recovery becomes slim.

Here are some important tips to stay one step ahead of this disease:

1. Go back to basics.

Nutritious meals, fresh air, proper exercise, morning sunshine, and adequate hydration help maintain the immune system and make the body strong to fight off infections, so put more effort toward making sure the patient has enough of these. Think of it as putting on armor before going to battle. It is much-needed protection.

2. Perform handwashing and use personal protective equipment as necessary.

Pneumonia can start from microorganisms that came from coughs and sneezes from other people who come in contact with caregivers. Proper handwashing and the use of gloves and gowns can prevent the spread of infections.

3. Protect your patient from drafts and very hot or very cold environments.

These factors cause changes in the body that make people prone to the common cold, which could possibly lead to pneumonia.

On the other hand, caregivers who take care of older patients already diagnosed with pneumonia must ensure the following:

1. Watch out for signs of confusion.

Pneumonia can cause confusion in older patients so watch out for falls and ensure their safety.

2. Keep your patient properly hydrated and offer nutritious meals.

Patients need proper nutrition and hydration to fight off the lung infection and start repairing themselves.

3. Remind them to take their medications when they are due.

Older persons with pneumonia will take antibiotics and other medications. For the treatment to go well, the patient should be able to take them on time and not miss a dose.

4. Follow doctor's orders and the care plan.

Making the patient well again is the goal of the whole healthcare team, not just the caregiver. Be sure to do all that is written in the care plan and everything the physician advises.

Pneumonia may be a difficult enemy to conquer when the victim is an older person. However, caregivers are in a unique position to do their best to ensure that this situation doesn’t happen.


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