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What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Pneumonia in Older Adults?

Feb 20, 2022

Senior Health

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Pneumonia in Older Adults?

Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by viral or bacterial infection. The air sacs get filled with pus and may become solid. This inflammation may affect one (single pneumonia) or both lungs (double pneumonia). This blog discusses the impact of pneumonia on older adults.

Pneumonia in elderly people

Pneumonia in elderly people (aged 65 or older) may become serious due to the high risk of severe complications. They are also at a higher risk for pneumonia because their immune system becomes less capable of fighting diseases. It can also get complicated if older adults have chronic health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). According to medical reports, such diseases can develop gradually across several days or suddenly over 1-2 days.

Causes of pneumonia

People can catch pneumonia in the community and may be referred to as community-acquired pneumonia. However, elderly people may develop pneumonia while staying in a hospital. During such cases, it may be referred to as hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Pneumonia can be caused by:

  • Viruses: The influenza virus enters the lungs and multiplies. It is the most common cause of viral pneumonia.
  • Fungi: When people expose themselves to fungi through contaminated soil or bird droppings, they may be at risk of developing fungal pneumonia.
  • Bacteria: This can develop after a person has the flu or viral cold. Bacterial pneumonia in the U.S. is mostly caused by Streptococcus pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia

The usual symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Production of phlegm
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing

However, these symptoms may be unclear in older people and may not be fully present. Furthermore, it was noted that such people might present milder or fewer symptoms and maybe a lower-than-normal temperature.

Symptoms of pneumonia in elders may include:

  • Confusion
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sudden change in day-to-day functioning
  • Loss of coordination, which may lead to falls
  • Delirium
  • Incontinence

Viral pneumonia

Here, the symptoms develop over several days:

  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Muscle weakness

The symptoms can worsen after a day or two and can lead to the following:

  • High fever
  • Coughing constantly
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blue lips
  • Muscle pain

Bacterial pneumonia

With this type of pneumonia, the symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly:

  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Fever that can reach high temperatures, such as 105°F
  • Blue lips and nailbeds
  • Increased breathing rate

Risk factors of pneumonia

Apart from age, other risk factors of pneumonia include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Previous stroke
  • Difficulty in swallowing or dysphagia
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Smoking
  • Patients with a compromised immune system, e.g., patients facing HIV/AIDs or undergoing chemotherapy, long-term steroid use, and patients who’ve had an organ transplant.
  • Neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia
  • History of respiratory disease and lung conditions like COPD, cystic fibrosis, etc.
  • Hospitalization, especially if patients were in an ICU needing a ventilator to breathe

How to take care of senior adults with pneumonia

If you have aging parents or any other elderly person in the house with pneumonia, get them treated as early as possible. The doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medications or antibiotics. They may even suggest a visit to the hospital depending on how sick the elder is.

Such medications can include:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia
  • Asprin to reduce fever
  • Drinking plenty of fluids and taking adequate rest
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Over-the-counter medicines for easy breathing or reducing fever

If pneumonia advances enough that it requires medical consult or hospitalization, the best treatment forms can include:

  • Ventilator
  • Antibiotics
  • An IV with fluids
  • Oxygen therapy

See Also: A Comprehensive Guide to an Emergency Care Plan for Aging Parents

For serious pneumonia cases, the older person may require surgery or have a procedure to remove badly damaged parts of the lungs.

While caring for an elderly pneumonia patient at home, you should take utmost precautions to prevent an infection. Get professional home care services or respite care professionals if you are unable to care for your parent on a full-time basis to ensure proper recovery.

See Also: Resuming a Normal Life After Your Surgery with In-Home Care Service:

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