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Signs of Pneumonia in Older Adults

January 24, 2020

This winter, you should remain vigilant for signs of pneumonia in yourself and loved ones. Wintertime can cause pneumonia to run rampant, since individuals are more often indoors and in close contact with one another. Here at Senior Home Companions (SHC), we are very aware that pneumonia can affect older adults much more severely, so be sure to watch for these signs and treat them appropriately. 

In-Depth Look at Pneumonia Symptoms in Older Adults

Understanding the symptoms of pneumonia in older adults is critical for early detection and treatment. Here's a more detailed look at the common symptoms, with specific emphasis on how they might present differently in seniors:

  • Chest Pain Upon Breathing or Coughing: This pain can range from a dull ache to sharp stabs, intensifying with deep breaths or coughs. It's often localized to the area of the lung that's affected.
  • Cough: The cough associated with pneumonia in older adults might be less forceful but can produce phlegm that is green, yellow, rust-colored, or even blood-tinged. A persistent cough that worsens, even if it's not producing much phlegm, should be taken seriously.
  • Fatigue and Weakness: Seniors might experience profound fatigue and weakness, which can be more pronounced than in younger adults. This can lead to decreased mobility and difficulty in performing daily activities.
  • Fever, Sweating, and Chills: While fever is a common symptom, older adults might have a lower-than-normal body temperature when they have an infection like pneumonia. Chills and night sweats can also be present.
  • Nausea, Vomiting, or Diarrhea: Digestive symptoms like these can be more prominent in seniors, sometimes occurring even in the absence of the more typical respiratory symptoms.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath can occur even during rest and might be more pronounced during physical activities.
  • Confusion or Changes in Mental Awareness: This is particularly important in older adults. Confusion, delirium, or changes in mental awareness can be a sign of pneumonia or a severe infection and should prompt immediate medical attention.
  • Lower than Normal Body Temperature: In some cases, instead of a fever, older adults might experience a drop in body temperature when suffering from pneumonia.
  • Additional Signs: Look for subtle signs like a decrease in appetite, general malaise, and worsening of underlying chronic conditions. Seniors might not always exhibit the classic symptoms of pneumonia, making vigilance key.

It's important to remember that symptoms can vary widely in intensity and combination. Even mild symptoms in older adults should be taken seriously, as pneumonia can escalate quickly in this age group. Early medical intervention can greatly improve outcomes.

Why are older adults more affected?

Seniors can be more affected by illness in general because of weakened immune systems. The flu and lung-related conditions are especially more likely to occur in the elderly, which can then develop into pneumonia.

Seniors are also more likely to have diabetes or heart disease, which can increase the risk of pneumonia. Older adults can also sometimes have difficulty producing a strong cough, which will help the body remove harmful germs or bacteria that may cause pneumonia.

How to prevent pneumonia or winter illness

Preventing pneumonia in seniors, especially during winter, requires a multifaceted approach:

  • Vaccinations: The flu shot is crucial as it helps prevent the flu, which can lead to pneumonia. Additionally, there are two types of pneumonia vaccines (PCV13 and PPSV23) recommended for seniors. These vaccines protect against various strains of pneumococcal bacteria. Consult with a healthcare provider about which vaccines are appropriate and their schedule.
  • Maintaining Good Hygiene: Frequent hand washing and the use of sanitizers can significantly reduce the risk of contracting respiratory infections. Seniors should be encouraged to avoid touching their face, especially the nose, mouth, and eyes, as these are common entry points for viruses and bacteria.
  • Indoor Air Quality: Good ventilation in living spaces is essential. Consider using air purifiers, especially in areas where seniors spend most of their time. This helps reduce the concentration of airborne pathogens.
  • Healthy Diet and Hydration: A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals boosts the immune system. Hydration is equally important; ensure a regular intake of water, soups, and other fluids.
  • Physical Activity: Regular, gentle exercise, as recommended by a healthcare provider, can improve overall health and lung function. Activities like walking or light aerobics are beneficial.
  • Avoiding Crowds and Sick Contacts: During peak flu season, it’s wise for seniors to avoid large gatherings and close contact with people who are sick. This is especially important for those with existing health conditions.
  • Regular Medical Check-Ups: Regular health screenings help in the early detection and management of conditions that might increase the risk of pneumonia.
  • Home Environment: Keeping a clean and sanitized home reduces the risk of infections. Pay special attention to frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, remote controls, and phones.
  • Adequate Rest and Stress Management: Ensure that seniors get enough sleep, as it is crucial for immune function. Activities that reduce stress, such as meditation or listening to music, can also be beneficial.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with local health advisories and recommendations, especially during flu seasons or outbreaks.

By incorporating these preventive measures into daily routines, seniors can significantly reduce their risk of developing pneumonia and other winter illnesses.

If you think you have pneumonia

Get to the doctor as soon as possible if you recognize the signs of pneumonia in yourself or a loved one. Even if you are just experiencing a bad cold or the flu, it is easier to treat symptoms early rather than letting them develop into pneumonia or another serious illness. SHC companions are happy to take your loved ones to doctor appointments if they are unable to drive themselves or need assistance at the appointment.

If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, be sure to get lots of rest and take extra care of yourself. This includes getting a nutritious diet and staying hydrated. Pneumonia is known to recur, so it is extremely important to not rush back into a busy schedule, as well as to finish all prescribed medication. Companion caregivers from SHC can help seniors recover from pneumonia with medication reminders and medical care coordination.

Preventing pneumonia in your family this winter doesn’t have to be a burden. If you need assistance with an elderly parent or family member, contact Senior Home Companions today to discuss our services.