Common Infections in Seniors
For older adults, infectious diseases account for one third of all deaths in people over the age of 65. It is for this reason that infection prevention and early detection are crucial for seniors, to reduce that risk and stay as healthy as possible. Due to the common physical changes brought about by the aging process, as well as the unique concerns of senior lifestyles, there are several infections that are most commonly seen amongst seniors. Knowing about them and recognizing the causes, signs, and symptoms, as well as preventing them in the first place, will go a long way towards ensuring that you have the best possible chance of avoiding any negative health effects due to them, and preserving your quality of life well into your twilight years.
- Bacterial Pneumonia: While pneumonia can be caused by either a virus or bacteria, the one most commonly experienced by seniors is when bacteria enters the lungs, causing air sacs to become inflamed, or to fill with fluid, interfering with breathing. This causes the body to not receive enough oxygen, making bacterial pneumonia a leading cause of hospitalization in seniors. The symptoms do not always present in a typical fashion, and many seniors instead experience confusion, dizziness, loss of appetite, or weakness in the early stages. There is a pneumonia vaccine that can help to prevent pneumococcal disease.
- Influenza: The flu is a common respiratory infection, spread quickly through coughing and sneezing, especially in settings like hospitals or care communities. Fortunately, a flu vaccine is available every year, which minimizes the risk of contracting it, and reduces the severity of symptoms.
- Skin infections: Any break in skin, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can be a convenient entryway for bacteria and germs to enter your body, leading to infection. Moisture, contact, and friction can also breed infection. Seniors should regularly inspect skin for rashes, unusual marks, ulcers, or any onset of itching, redness, or pain. MRSA, shingles, bed sores, and foot infections are most common among seniors. For seniors suffering from diabetes, foot infections are of particular concern, as the loss of sensation associated with diabetes can cause them to go unnoticed until they become very serious. Regular hand-washing and good hygiene, as well as practicing good wound care by cleaning and bandaging any cuts, scrapes, or breaks can prevent these infections.
- Urinary Tract Infections: Younger adults usually experience a UTI as discomfort or pain when urinating, but in seniors, it can present as sudden incontinence, weight loss, loss of appetite, or confusion. UTIs, when untreated, can become serious and lead to hospitalization. Fortunately, they are easily treated with a round of antibiotics when caught early. Drinking plenty of fluids and maintaining good hygiene reduces the risk of contracting one.
- Gastrointestinal Infections: Our guts and digestive systems are full of bacteria, many of them healthy and beneficial. Unhealthy bacteria can be introduced in a number of ways, such as contaminated water and food, or undercooked food. GI infections cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and fever. Good handwashing, especially after the restroom and before eating, as well as following food safety guidelines with expiration date and cooking temps will prevent these types of infections.