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Pneumonia in the Elderly

Blog January 18th, 2016

Pneumonia is one of the most common diseases and although it was once regarded as a death sentence, improvements in medicine and technology have made pneumonia treatable. However, pneumonia is still a serious disease among children, chronically ill, and especially the elderly. As we get older our immune systems are not as apt at fighting off bacteria and viruses, leaving us susceptible to diseases like pneumonia. In fact, while pneumonia can stabilize within 6 days in younger patients, it can take up to 12 weeks for the disease to subside in the elderly.

Symptoms

Symptoms are much easier to notice in younger patients and children than they are in the elderly. This is one thing that makes pneumonia in the elderly so serious. Often times, seniors with pneumonia will not show common symptoms like a cough, fever, or nausea. The most clear-cut sign of pneumonia in the elderly is confusion or delirium. Additionally, elderly persons with a lung condition often get dramatically worse when pneumonia is thrown into the mix.

When symptoms manifest themselves in elderly patients, hospitalization is almost always required. Typically, these hospital stays are much longer than they would be for younger patients because of additional health risks. For example, many elderly patients have a preexisting medical condition that can get progressively worse with pneumonia.

Complications

While pneumonia itself can be fatal in elderly persons, it can also lead to a host of other health problems. Some of the more common complications associated with pneumonia are:

  • Bacteremia: Blood is normally a sterile environment, but pneumonia can cause bacteria to work its way into the blood stream. This elicits a powerful immune system response that may prove fatal in elderly patients.
  • Lung Abscesses: Lung abscesses are simply pockets, or cavities, of bacteria-filled pus in the lungs. Typically, a lung abscess is treated with antibiotics, although surgery may be required to fully drain the pus.
  • ARDS: Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS for short, is a severe medical condition that requires immediate attention. With a 20% mortality rate, ARDS is one of the most severe complications associated with pneumonia in the elderly.

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