Pneumonia is a lung infection, and very tricky in older adults.
It’s still caused by either a bacterial or viral infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs.
Unfortunately, many tell-tale signs commonly associated with pneumonia in adults under the age of 65 are often not present in older adults. Older adults often have fewer and more mild symptoms. For example, the phlegm-ridden cough and high fever accompanied with teeth-chattering chills often associated with pneumonia is often non-existent in older adults. So we have to look for other signs.
Two red-flag signs of pneumonia in older adults are confusion and/or delirium, as well as a lower than normal body temperature.
Other signs, which can sometimes be confused with cold and flu, include:
Chest pain during breathing or coughing
Feeling tired or weak
Nausea and/or vomiting
Shortness of breath
It can be hard for family members tasked with providing care to spot these symptoms.
Keeping your loved one healthy
There are a few easy steps to avoid complications and minimize the risk of pneumonia.
To avoid complications, experts recommend:
Rest, rest and more rest. Remember, pneumonia is sneaky and can recur. Just because your loved one feels better, he or she may not be fully recovered. It is generally better not to jump back into a normal routine until you are positive he or she is recovered. Not sure? Ask a doctor.
Stay hydrated. Drinking water will help loosen the mucus in your loved one’s lungs, clearing them sooner.
Finish medication. It is always important to take all prescribed medications. With pneumonia, doing so is particularly important as bacteria can stay in the lungs, multiply and trigger a recurrence.
Living a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of contracting pneumonia, so it’s not a bad idea to help encourage your loved one to start doing so if they haven’t already.
If you’re a caregiver for your elderly loved one and live far away, or can’t be there 24/7, you might worry about catching warning signs like these. Read more in Don't Wait for the Holidays: How to Be Proactive About Staying On Top of Your Elderly Parent's Care.