doctor examines elderly man with breathing difficulty

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is particularly serious in the elderly due to weaker immune systems and other health conditions.

Pneumonia, which sends about one million people to the hospital and kills 50,000 every year, affects alveoli, the tiny air sacs in the lungs. Infected alveoli can make it difficult to breathe, fill up with liquid – which makes it impossible for the lungs to function properly. The lungs are less able to oxygenate the blood as they do when healthy. Adults who smoke are more likely to get pneumonia.

Embassy Healthcare’s Grande Oaks (Oakwood Village) and Parkside (Fairfield) communities in Ohio offers pulmonary and respiratory care services for individuals with pneumonia, COPD, respiratory failure, congestive heart failure or other pulmonary illnesses.

Causes

There are dozens of bacterial and viral causes of pneumonia, which can make it more difficult to treat the illness. The deadliest for senior citizens is the streptococcus (pneumococcal) bacteria, which is the cause of 40,000 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This strain can cause bacteria in the bloodstream (known as bacteremia), meningitis in the brain or lung damage.

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary based on the cause and age of the individual, but some common signs include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Coughing up green or yellow sputum
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Chest and rib pain

Prevention

Vaccination is by far the best and most dependable way to prevent pneumonia. The CDC recommends that people over the age of 65 get two pneumococcal vaccines:

  • One dose of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13)
  • At least one year later, get one dose of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

It’s also very important for older adults to get the influenza vaccine. Even though it doesn’t always completely ward off the flu in seniors, a vaccinated person will usually get a milder case. A case of the flu will sometimes turn into pneumonia in the elderly. Basic ways to minimize your chances of getting pneumonia include regular hand washing, proper dental hygiene, a balanced diet and getting enough exercise and sleep.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia, which can be determined through blood or phlegm samples. Viral pneumonia cases usually clear up over time with proper nutrition, sleep and fluids.

Bacterial pneumonia must be treated with antibiotics. Individuals in more fragile health conditions may require inpatient treatment, placed on a respirator and undergoing breathing treatments with medications specifically for pneumonia.

Embassy’s Grande Oaks and Parkside communities feature 24/7 respiratory therapists providing advanced pulmonary and respiratory care. All respiratory therapists are certified or registered, while our nursing staff consists of RNs, LPNs and STNAs.

For more information on Embassy Healthcare’s pulmonary and respiratory care program, call 888-975-1379 or contact us online.