Most Common Infections in the Elderly
Though seniors are more susceptible to infection overall, seniors with dementia or those who are in long-term care may be at even greater risk.
Common infections like influenza and Urinary Tract Infections can happen to anyone, but for adults over the age of 65, these illnesses may be much harder to diagnose, leading to chronic poor health, ongoing discomfort and a higher risk of hospitalization.
For caregivers, it’s critical to learn about the most common infections in the elderly and their often-elusive signs and symptoms. Nonspecific symptoms, such as the decline in functioning, incontinence, loss of appetite, and mental status changes may be the presenting signs of infection.
If we stay alert to any changes in senior health and take steps to ward off any infections that might be preventable, we can help promote greater wellness and quality of life for our loved ones in their golden years.
Here are the five most common infections in the elderly:
1. Bacterial pneumonia.
More than 60% of seniors over 65 get admitted to hospitals due to pneumonia. Seniors are at greater risk for pneumonia for a variety of reasons, including changes in lung capacity, increased exposure to disease in community settings and increased susceptibility due to other conditions like cardiopulmonary disease or diabetes.
Classic symptoms like chills, cough and fever are less frequent in the elderly. Keep an eye out for non respiratory symptoms like confusion or delirium.
2. Elderly influenza.
Weakened immunity in the elderly, along with other chronic conditions, increases the risk of developing severe complications from influenza, such as pneumonia. Because influenza is easily transmitted by coughing and sneezing, the risk of infection increases in a closed environment like a nursing home. Chills, cough and fever are the common symptoms, though again, influenza may present different signs in older adults. Annual flu vaccinations are usually recommended for seniors in order to prevent infection.
3. Elderly skin infections.
Changes to aging skin and its ability to heal and resist disease mean that skin infections get much more common as we get older. These include:
- Bacterial or fungal foot infections (which can be more common in those with diabetes)
- Drug-resistant infections like MRSA
- Viral infections like herpes zoster (shingles) and pressure ulcers
Stay alert to any unusual itching, lesions or pain. Most skin infections are treatable and shingles is preventable with a simple vaccine. Ward off other skin infections by practicing good hygiene such as proper handwashing, particularly if your loved one lives in a senior care community.
4. Gastrointestinal infections.
Age-related changes to digestion put seniors at increased risk of developing gastrointestinal infections. Two of the most common are Helicobacter pylori, which may cause fever, nausea and upper abdominal pain as well as leading to long-term illness such as gastritis.
5. Urinary tract infections.
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are the most common bacterial infection in older adults. The use of catheters or the presence of diabetes can increase the risk of UTIs in elderly people. Sudden changes in behavior, such as confusion or worsening of dementia, or the onset of urinary incontinence, are common warning signs — discomfort and pain don’t necessarily happen with UTIs in seniors.
Caregivers should make sure their loved ones drink plenty of water, as this can help prevent UTIs.
Promyse Home Care is dedicated to providing the highest quality of home and health care services, delivered with knowledge, integrity, and compassion to seniors and adults living with a disability in our community. We are committed to improving quality of life while respecting a person’s dignity, independence, and choices.