What Is a Pneumonia and How Does It Affect Seniors
The condition of pneumonia is primarily caused when the Alveoli, or the microscopic air sacs of the lungs, become inflamed or swollen. Pneumonia can occur in one or both lungs. Normally bacteria or viruses can cause pneumonia, however autoimmune diseases and other conditions can have the same effect. Globally, pneumonia affects approximately 450 million people every year. With up to 7% of the global population being affected every year, this has resulted in an average of 4 million deaths annually, most victims being seniors and young children.
Pneumonia must always be taken seriously because it can be potentially life-threatening. Common symptoms include:
- Chest Pain
- Mucus Production
- Difficulty breathing and cough
- Shaking chills
In some cases, especially for the elderly, symptoms such as confusion and dizziness may occur. Many times when a person is experiencing a more severe episode of pneumonia more serious symptoms and signs may appear, including:
- Persistent vomiting
- Extremes of temperature
- Blue paled skin
- Lower levels of cognitive abilities
Pneumonia is acquired primarily due to infection caused by viruses and bacteria, but in some rare cases by fungi and parasites. Even though there are more than 100 strains of infectious agents involved, only a few are responsible for the majority of the cases. The most common types of pneumonias are:
Bacterial Pneumonia occurs when bacteria enters the lungs and the lung's air sacs become inflamed. There are two types of bacterial pneumonia. Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP) and Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP). CAP is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia and is typically acquired among people with little or no contact with medical institutions. CAP can develop on its own or as a result of a serious cold or flu. HAP is acquired by contracting germs in a hospital or medical establishment.
Viral Pneumonia usually develops from viruses such as Flu Influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, measles, chickenpox, and a number of other viruses. Viruses can be contracted both through the air and by touch. When someone sneezes or coughs, viruses can spread into the lungs through microscopic droplets of fluid. Also, touching virus-laden objects such as the remote control or telephone and then touching your mouth or nose can easily cause a virus.
Both Bacterial Pneumonia and Viral Pneumonia can be contracted through the air and by touch. The difference between the two comes in the method of treatment. Bacterial Pneumonia can usually be treated with antibiotics. Viral Pneumonia, on the other hand, cannot be treated with antibiotics, and thus makes it more complicated to treat than bacterial pneumonia. Common treatments for viral pneumonia include increased fluids, humidified air, and lots of rest. Antiviral medication only serves as a treatment to influenza pneumonia, but not other forms of viral pneumonia.
Effects of Pneumonia on the Elderly
Both young children and the elderly are more at risk to develop pneumonia than any other age demographic. This is because their immune systems are not as strong and common colds frequently become more complicated with them. Furthermore, seniors suffering from chronic illnesses such as strokes or cardiovascular disease can pass away in their sleep after contracting pneumonia. This is referred to as Old Man’s Friend.
Lastly, pneumonia can manifest itself quickly and unexpectedly, and what might seem like a mild cold or flu can turn into a dangerous pneumonia unexpectedly. Seniors, especially those living alone, may believe that they are strong enough to fight through a cold or flu on their own, like when they were younger. Unexpectedly, however, they can end up becoming extremely sick and weak, impairing daily tasks around the house, such as cooking and cleaning, consequently leading to fall-related injuries. Fall-related injuries account for over 30% of emergency room visits among seniors. Additionally, fall-related injuries can result in a senior needing additional physical therapy in a skilled nursing facility or at home with a home-health agency. Such services are expensive and can put a financial strain on the senior and their family.
Article written by Chase Lowrey and Alex Milzer with SeniorDirectory.com