Infections account for 1/3 of all deaths in seniors age 65 and older. Seniors are susceptible to infections more than younger adults because the immune system tends to get weaker with age. Additionally, many seniors have health problems or chronic conditions that put them at higher risk for developing infections and experiencing complications. Early detection is key to achieving the best outcomes for seniors and their families. In this post, we will review 5 of the most common infections that affect seniors.
Pneumonia refers to an infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs. Symptoms include coughing, painful breathing, fever, chills, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. It can be caused by a number of different triggers, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more. The cause of pneumonia often determines how a senior should be treated. However, even with treatment approximately 30% of seniors treated for pneumonia in a hospital still diefrom it.
This infection is common in seniors not only due to weakened immune systems and chronic conditions, but also because of close quarters. Many seniors live in senior communities with close quarters. And seniors tend to spend more time in the hospital or even time in a rehabilitation facility after a health challenge. In places like these, seniors may come into contact with many potential sources of pneumonia — including strains that are resistant to treatment.
The flu is another common infection that can affect seniors. It is caused by the influenza virus and results in coughing, sneezing, chills, and other symptoms. While the flu may not seem like a big deal to younger adults, it can cause serious complications in seniors if left untreated. Seniors can develop dehydration, bronchitis, seizures, and even pneumonia as a result of the flu. Overall, the flu is responsible for more than $1 billion in Medicare costs each year.
During this past year, seniors also had to worry about COVID-19, which exhibits similar symptoms to the flu. One way to determine if you have the flu versus COVID-19 is to consider when you started developing symptoms. Flu symptoms will often appear 1 to 4 days after exposure, while COVID-19 symptoms may take 2 to 14 days after exposure. However, doctors are able to perform tests to distinguish between the 2 types of infections.
To help prevent the flu, seniors can get their annual flu vaccination and manage any chronic conditions. They can also follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, like social distancing and washing hands frequently to help cut down on the chance of getting the flu.
3. Urinary Tract Infection
Urinary traction infections are a type of bacterial infection that is common in seniors. However, this type of infection may exhibit different symptoms in older adults. Typically, UTI symptoms include dark or cloudy urine, blood in the urine, and painful urination. Seniors may experience some of these symptoms or they have different symptoms altogether, like irritation, confusion, hallucinations, and dizziness. These symptoms can be confused with aging or even as signs of dementia or dehydration, making it difficult to know the underlying cause. One thing to note, however, is that these symptoms will come on quickly if it is a UTI.
Doctors can quickly diagnose a UTI with a urine sample and provide medication to treat the infection. If the UTI is left untreated, symptoms can worsen and even lead to a kidney infection — resulting in further complications.
4. Skin Infections
Skin infections include a wide variety of infections that can appear anywhere on a senior’s skin. Because the skin changes as we age, seniors have a harder time resisting skin infections and healing from them. Skin infections can be caused by a number of different sources, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. We want to focus on 2 of the more serious skin infections: shingles and MRSA.
Shingles is a form of herpes zoster, which is caused by the varicella zoster virus or chicken pox. If you’ve ever had chicken pox, then part of that virus lives in your body, although it remains inactive and doesn’t affect you. However, later in life, the virus can become active again, leading to shingles.
Shingles can cause a rash or blisters on the skin and can also cause seniors to feel burning, shooting pain, itchiness, or tingling on one side of their face or body. As a result, shingles is not contagious like chicken pox. But someone with shingles could pass chicken pox to someone who has never had chicken pox. So it’s best for seniors to be careful.
This skin infection can last weeks and be very painful. Even after the infection clears, some seniors may be left with lingering pain, scars, or other traces of the infection. There is a vaccine for shingles, which can help seniors reduce their risk of developing the infection.
MRSA is a form of staph infection, which is caused by bacteria. It causes swollen and painful bumps to appear on the skin. They may look like pimples but usually grow large and can feel warm to the touch. These bumps can turn into large boils that require surgical draining. MRSA is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact. As a result, it can spread quickly through close quarters, like senior living communities. MRSA is distinguished from staph infection because it is more resistant to treatment.
Seniors can help prevent MRSA by washing their hands frequently and taking any skin irritations seriously. When caught early, MRSA is easier to contain and treat. If left untreated, the condition can cause health complications, including bloodstream infections, sepsis, osteomyelitis, and more.
5. Gastrointestinal Infections
Senior may also suffer from gastrointestinal infections, like norovirus and Clostridium difficile (C-diff). These types of infections can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, or result in long-term health problems like gastritis. These infections are caused due to changes in digestion. A senior may ingest bacteria while eating, and the body simply can’t fight it off, resulting in an infection.
To reduce the likelihood of developing a gastrointestinal infection, seniors should practice good food safety practices and wash their hands often — especially before eating. These infections are not treated with antibiotics, so seniors should also stay hydrated and manage their other conditions to help worsen the effects of symptoms.
At Caring Senior Service our team of experts is here to help seniors remain safe from infection and to help seniors recover if they do develop an infection. We have an infection-control care program designed to help us provide care to seniors who may be contagious but who need help managing tasks of daily living. You can also download our Caregiver Infection Control Checklist to learn more about preventing the spread of infections.