Pneumonia can be dangerous and even deadly for seniors. In fact, it’s the 5th leading cause of death among seniors, and it is even more common during cooler months when we all spend a bit more time indoors. However, it is mostly preventable in the family home setting. In this post, we will review tips for keeping your home clean and preventing the spread of pneumonia to keep your elderly loved ones healthy and happy at home.
What Is Pneumonia
Before we outline tips to prevent pneumonia, it’s important to understand what it is and how it is contracted and spread. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that causes a buildup of fluid in the small air sacs where the body exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide. When these sacs fill with fluid, the body isn’t able to get oxygen and expel carbon dioxide efficiently — making it difficult to breathe. Pneumonia itself may not be contagious; however, the causes of pneumonia can be contagious.
Potential Causes of Pneumonia
Pneumonia can be caused by infection — bacterial, viral, and fungal. These infections can be spread from one person to the next through direct or indirect contact, much like the spreading of a common cold.
For example, someone with the infectious germs may cough into their hand and then shake hands with another individual. This contact could result in the spreading of the germs.
Pneumonia can also be caused by aspiration (inhalation). Aspiration occurs when we accidentally inhale bits of food or drink into our lungs. If your loved one has suffered from a stroke and is experiencing challenges with eating, chewing, drinking, or swallowing, they may be at increased risk for this type of pneumonia. However, this form of pneumonia is not contagious.
When discussing how to prevent pneumonia at home, we will focus on pneumonia caused by infections and how to reduce infectious germs from spreading within your 4 walls. To learn more about aspiration pneumonia see our infographic: Diet to Avoid Aspiration Pneumonia.
How to Prevent Infection from Spreading at Home
If your family member has been diagnosed with a contagious form of pneumonia it's crucial to control the spread of germs and bacteria that could spread to others and cause pneumonia. Here are some steps to consider:
Encourage all family members at home to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water. Clean hands well, scrubbing around the nails and washing above the wrists.
You may need to teach younger family members about proper hand washing techniques, and oversee youngsters to ensure they're doing a good job. While kids' immune systems are resilient, children under 5 years old are susceptible to developing pneumonia.
You may not always have access to soap and water. In these cases, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to stop germs in their tracks.
In addition to disinfecting your hands, it’s important to disinfect the frequently touched items or appliances in your home. These surfaces include but are not limited to the following:
- Remote controls
- Refrigerator handles
- Toilet handle
Encourage Proper Hygiene
Encourage loved ones with pneumonia to cough and sneeze directly into a tissue and dispose of it. If your family member is bedridden, keep a wastebasket handy for tissues, and empty it often. Be careful to avoid touching these dirty tissues. If you do need to help pick them up, use gloves, wash your hands, and disinfect the area.
Do Laundry Frequently
Frequently separate and wash home goods made of fabric to eliminate germs and bacteria. These items could include sheets, blankets, towels, clothes, etc. For example, don't allow a bath towel used by a pneumonia patient to be hung in the bathroom and reused by other family members. This will help reduce the spreading of infectious germs while keeping your linens smelling fresh.
If you aren’t able to handle cleaning up after your loved one, we are here to help. Our professional caregivers can assist your loved one in their personal care routine and provide light housekeeping services while they recover.
While you may love your senior to pieces, try to limit close contact with them while they are contagious. It’s especially important to protect babies and kids from snuggling a senior with pneumonia because their immune systems may be weaker than the average adult.
There is a vaccine available to protect your family from pneumonia caused by streptococcus pneumoniae: Prevnar 13. While this choice is ultimately best made between you and your doctor, a single vaccination can protect you from this specific type of pneumonia. The vaccine doesn't contain live bacteria, so you cannot catch pneumonia from the vaccine. You'll only need it once, not annually like the flu shot.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Nutrition and overall health also play a role in your family's susceptibility to any infection as well. Encourage your entire family to eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and soak up some sunlight. Our bodies are exposed to infectious diseases all the time, making quality self-care essential for caregivers too.
However, we understand that focusing on mealtimes can be difficult when caring for a sick loved one. That’s why we offer meal preparation services to help you and your family keep up your nutrition while fighting pneumonia at home.
We hope that these tips help your family reduce the spread of contagious germs at home. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with pneumonia, know that Caring Senior Service can help. We offer a Pneumonia Specialty Program that focuses on helping seniors maintain their quality of life as they heal from the condition. This program involves aspects of light housekeeping, personal care, meal preparation, and more. We can tailor our services to meet the needs of your family and the preferences of your loved one.