Pneumonia: How to prevent it and spot the symptoms in the elderly
As the cold weather sets in, health problems can become more serious – especially for elderly people.
By now, your elderly friend or relative should have had their free flu jab. But another of the most serious conditions affecting elderly people is pneumonia. This can affect people at any time of the year, but it is especially common in the winter months.
Here’s what you need to know about pneumonia, including how to prevent it.
What Is Pneumonia?
To know how to prevent pneumonia, you first need to know what it is. Pneumonia is an infection that can be caused by viruses and bacteria. Pneumococcal infection is the most common cause, and this is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.
It can also be caused by fungi, though this is less common.
It affects the lungs (either one or both), and causes inflammation in the alveoli. According to the NHS, it affects about 8 in every 1,000 adults each year.
While it can be deadly, it is often simply unpleasant. Hilary Clinton suffered from a bout earlier in 2016, but she was back out on the campaign trail shortly after.
Like many infections, it can be more serious in older people. Anyone over 65 is more at risk, making it essential to take precautions.
Steps to prevent pneumonia in the elderly
Good hygiene is essential for the prevention of pneumonia. This is the most common way that the infection is spread, so it is important to wash your hands, use hand sanitiser and avoid touching your face with unclean hands.
The flu can sometimes lead to pneumonia, so making sure you have the flu jab is another way to reduce the risk. If your elderly friend or relative has not had the flu jab yet, they can get this for free from their GP or at some pharmacies.
A pneumococcal vaccine also exists, so this is another preventative measure to take. While not 100% effective, it provides an extra layer of protection, and it can help to weaken any infections to reduce the chances of complications. It is also only required once, rather than every year like the flu jab.
Smoking is a big risk factor for pneumonia. If your elderly relative smokes, try to help them to quit and this will help to reduce the chances of getting ill.
Spot the symptoms
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent pneumonia, so you must spot the symptoms early on.
Confusion, dizziness and weakness are all common symptoms, and the NHS also states that coughing, fever, sweating, a fast heartbeat and chest pain can be symptoms.
Symptoms can arise suddenly, and they can range from mild to more serious.
If you are concerned you may not be able to spot the signs of Pneumonia, we can arrange for a dedicated care worker to visit your relative regularly during the winter months.
See Your GP if You Are Worried
If your elderly relative seems to be suffering from any symptoms, accompany them to see their GP because they may need to take antibiotics. If they are suffering from any more severe symptoms such as confusion, chest pain or fast breathing, go straight to the hospital.