Bacterial and viral infections impact scores of Americans each year and more often than not, they are easily treated. With older adults, however, these infections can become much more complicated. In fact, among people 65 and older, infectious diseases are responsible for more than 33 percent of all deaths, according to the American Family Physician journal.
Most of the time, these infections are hard to detect because the symptoms go unnoticed, primarily because seniors do not typically experience a heightened fever with infection the way younger people do. Regardless, early intervention can be key for reducing many of the complications and risks associated with these illnesses. Consider these four infections that are most common as well as how to reduce your risk:
1. Bacterial Pneumonia and the Flu
Bacterial pneumonia is one of the most common infections for a senior to develop and also very risky, especially if it goes untreated. As the AFP explained, more than 60 percent of people over the age of 65 end up hospitalized due to pneumonia. This age demographic is at a greater risk for the infection because of changes in lung capacity, diabetes or cardiovascular complications and heightened disease exposure in community living spaces, reported the Senior Living Blog.
As mentioned above, traditional symptoms such as fever will not likely be present in seniors coming down with pneumonia. Likewise, symptoms such as coughing and chills are also less likely to show. As such, it's important to watch for other signs like feelings of delirium or weakness, noted Senior Living Blog.
Influenza is also a common infection for the elderly, one that can turn dangerous as well. Combined with pneumonia, the two become the No. 6 leading cause of death in the United States with the majority of mortalities in adults over the age of 65, reported the AFP. Early prevention measures include the influenza shot for the flu and pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia. Staying away from others who are sick, washing your hands and maintaining a healthy diet can also help to avoid sickness.
2. Skin infections
Viral skin infections are common among the elderly as their skin takes longer to heal and it gets more difficult to fight off disease, noted the Senior Living Blog. MRSA, shingles, ulcers, cellulitis and bacterial foot infections are among the skin infections known to impact and cause complications in seniors. Even everyday wounds can turn into complications if they are not properly taken care of. As such, it's important to address injuries, cuts and wounds as they arise so that they can be treated, dressed and hopefully, heal faster.
3. Gastrointestinal infections
Infections of the gut including norovirus and Clostridium difficile, known as C-diff, can be very high-risk for elderly patients, according to Newsmax. Often contracted by seniors who are already hospitalized or in a nursing home and taking antibiotics, C-diff develops when the healthy microbes of the intestines are killed off by the drugs. A procedure known as fecal transplant therapy can help to save patients, noted the source.
Among the best prevention methods are practicing good hygiene and avoiding antibiotics that are not necessary, stated Newsmax.
Urinary tract infections, known as UTIs, are a very common infection among the elderly. Generally, these types of infections are very mild and can be easily treated, reported Newsmax. Body changes during aging make seniors more susceptible to UTIs and sometimes, the infection can be spread by catheters used to treat elderly patients for something else entirely. However, in the circumstance that a UTI goes undetected, it has the potential to become quite dangerous. In some cases, if it spreads and infects the kidney or turns to sepsis, it could even turn deadly.
With the right prevention measures, many of these infections are avoidable.