Shortness of breath can be problematic for anyone, but it can be even more serious for older adults. 

Identifying pneumonia early in elderly patients can make a huge impact on their chances of recovery. Pneumonia can be deadly for those over age 65, especially if they have underlying health conditions, so it’s important to know about the signs, symptoms, and prevention techniques for pneumonia in older adults.

Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia 

According to the American Lung Association, “Pneumonia is a common lung infection caused by bacteria, a virus or fungi. It is often spread via coughing, sneezing, touching or even breathing, and those who don’t exhibit symptoms can also spread the illness.”

Pneumonia often presents with swelling or fluid in the lungs, which can cause issues with breathing and affect energy levels.

Symptoms vary from case to case, but can include: 

  • Persistent cough
  • Green or yellow mucus
  • Feeling weak and exhausted
  • Pain in the chest, especially when deep breathing or coughing
  • Fever*
  • Confusion
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath when doing everyday activities 

*Pneumonia signs can look different in an older person, as compared to the general population. For example, an elderly individual may not have a fever when they have pneumonia. Their body temperature may even be cooler than normal. 

Protocol for Seeking Medical Attention

The Minnesota state government asks that people call ahead if they are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, which can sometimes look similar to the pneumonia symptoms listed above. 

Treating Pneumonia in Older Adults

Recovery from pneumonia can take weeks or months, depending on the patient’s overall health and any underlying medical conditions (see below). Treatment can take place at home with plenty of rest and hydration. If the pneumonia is caused by bacteria, doctors may prescribe antibiotics. Severe cases will need to be treated in a healthcare facility. 

Cough suppressants should generally be avoided, since coughing is the body’s way to fight the infection. However, a low-dose cough medicine could be recommended by a doctor if the pneumonia patient is having trouble sleeping due to the cough. 

If an elderly person is suspected of having pneumonia, get treatment – especially if they have underlying health conditions or their symptoms are getting worse or not improving. 

Prevention Techniques for Pneumonia 

Pneumonia is typically caused by bacteria or viruses. It can be contracted by contact with other people. Therefore, it’s recommended that people follow good hygiene practices such as hand washing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Staying up-to-date on vaccines is also critical, including the flu shot.

Older adults should also observe a balanced diet and maintain an active lifestyle

Risk Factors for Pneumonia

People over age 65 are at a higher risk of pneumonia because our immune systems become weaker as we age. 

Medical conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), bronchiectasis, Cystic Fibrosis, heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease can all increase the likelihood of developing pneumonia. Those with weakened immune systems due to conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, an organ transplant, or chemotherapy are also at a higher risk. If someone has recently had a viral respiratory infection, such as a cold, laryngitis, or influenza, they may also be at a higher risk of developing pneumonia. 

Some risk factors can be mitigated by practicing a healthier lifestyle. By avoiding cigarette smoking, secondhand smoke, drug and alcohol abuse, and air pollutants, people can decrease their risk of pneumonia. 

While pneumonia is a serious health condition at any age, elderly individuals are at a higher risk. At Best Care, we encourage our clients and Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) to educate themselves about the signs, symptoms, and prevention techniques for pneumonia. 

Reach Out to Best Care Today!

What other questions or concerns do you have about taking care of an elderly home care client? Are you caring for a family member and would like to know how you can get paid? Contact Best Care today! One of our compassionate staff members will be happy to help you.