Pneumonia in Elderly or Nursing Homes

pneumonia in elderly

The relatives of people living in nursing homes expect their family members to receive high-quality care. This not only ensures residents have a good quality of living, but it also prevents them from being injured or falling ill during their stay. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have an obligation to prevent viruses and diseases from running wild in the facilities. Pneumonia in elderly residents of nursing homes is a significant problem. If nursing home staff doesn’t take steps to prevent the spread, the consequences could be severe.

So, how can Chicago nursing homes prevent the spread of Pneumonia in elderly residents? And do you have a case if your loved one falls ill due to negligence? If you believe your loved one has suffered nursing home neglect, please call the compassionate personal injury lawyers Chicago at Curcio & Casciato. Call today at 312-321-1111 to schedule your free and confidential consultation.

We also handle Chicago nursing home falls and injuries associated with those falls. Call today to find out whether or not you have a case.

Pneumonia in Elderly People

pneumonia symptoms in elderly

Pneumonia poses a significant threat to those in assisted living facilities, especially when residents have chronic medical conditions. Even minor bouts can be fatal to a high-risk individual, so it is up to nursing home staff to prevent the spread of pneumonia however they can. Here are a few steps nursing facilities can take.

  • Recognize the Symptoms: Identifying the signs and symptoms of pneumonia can be difficult when a person has other medical conditions. Unlike younger people with pneumonia, who present with shortness of breath and fever, the elderly will often exhibit uncommon symptoms that can be easily overlooked. This includes a lack of energy, dizziness, increased rate of breathing, and confusion.
  • Stress Cleanliness and Sanitation: Staff must wash their hands with soap and water before providing care to each resident. Staff must also properly sanitize surfaces in resident rooms and common areas several times a day, using a solution approved to kill viruses, bacteria, and other germs. Access to hand sanitizer throughout a facility is beneficial, but only if it is accompanied by regular hand washing.
  • Properly Vaccinate Residents: Responsible nursing homes know that prevention is the best course of action for maintaining the health and well-being of residents. Administering a pneumococcal vaccine greatly reduces fatalities caused by pneumonia. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all residents of nursing homes receive this vaccine, regardless of their age. Elderly people are also encouraged to receive a yearly flu vaccine, as seasonal flu can lead to pneumonia in vulnerable people.

What Causes Elderly People to Develop Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs. When the air sacs of the lungs fill up with bacteria, this bacteria can cause pneumonia. Factors that determine the severity of pneumonia include age and general health. Therefore, those with weakened immune systems, including infants and elderly patients, are at greater risk of severe pneumonia cases.

Most people contract pneumonia from someone near them who has it. Because of this, the spread of pneumonia in nursing homes is very dangerous. Nursing home-acquired pneumonia is more dangerous because of the close proximity in which residents live. Additionally, those in assisted living facilities are more likely to have existing medical conditions and have a more sedentary lifestyle.

Pneumonia in older age groups can also occur while elderly patients are in a hospital intensive care unit, while on mechanical ventilation, or in patients hospitalized for long periods of time. The two bacterial strains which commonly cause pneumonia are Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The first strain usually occurs as a bacterial infection after having the flu or a cold. It is more severe than the second strain, which is often called “walking pneumonia.” 

Causes of Pneumonia in the Elderly Patients of the Community

Nursing home-acquired pneumonia is a significant problem for those in assisted living facilities. Streptococcus pneumoniae remains the most common pathogen among elderly individuals. However, it should be noted that aspiration pneumonia is also significant. Additionally, many doctors and caregivers fail to consider tuberculosis as a possibility in their clinical diagnosis.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a number of causes for severe and mild pneumonia exist. These causes include fungi, bacteria, viruses, and much more. In elderly patients with pneumonia, the two most common causes are bacteria and viruses. For younger adults, pneumonia results more commonly from the influenza virus.

How to Diagnose and Treat Community-Acquired Pneumonia

In order to diagnose pneumococcal pneumonia or another form of the illness, doctors might perform the following tests.

  • Chest X-ray: This helps to determine both the location and severity of the infection.
  • Blood tests: This helps to both confirm the infection and pinpoint the organism causing it.
  • Sputum test: A doctor takes a sample of fluid from the lungs in order to pinpoint the exact cause.
  • Pulse oximetry: Measuring the blood oxygen level of the patient can help diagnose pneumonia. 
  • Physical examination: If the patient had difficulty breathing, a doctor will often listen to their breathing to gain more insight.

Treating pneumonia takes a multitude of factors into consideration, including both the type and severity of the infection. Some of the treatment options for pneumonia acquired in the elderly include the following.

  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Cough medicine
  • Fever reducers
  • Empirical antimicrobial therapy
  • Many more specific treatments for special cases

Risk Factors for Community-Acquired Pneumonia

There are several risk factors for community-acquired pneumonia, which are as follows.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Old age
  • Smoking
  • Malnutrition
  • Previous community-acquired pneumonia
  • Environmental exposure
  • Asthma
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Poor dental hygiene or health
  • Oral steroids
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Progressive pulmonary infiltrates

Other risk factors exist, but these are some of the most common and prevalent risk factors among patients treated for pneumonia complications.

Complications of Pneumonia

Older adults are at a much greater risk of developing pneumonia-related complications than younger adults. These complications include the following.

  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Lung abscess
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Invasive pneumococcal disease
  • Other clinical infectious diseases
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Legionnaires disease
  • Pleurisy or pleural effusion

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Some symptoms of pneumonia are so mild that you might not realize they’re symptoms at first. Other symptoms are so severe that they require hospitalization. A variety of factors can affect the severity of someone’s pneumonia, including age, general health, and the type of bacteria causing the respiratory symptoms. General signs of pneumonia in older adults and children include the following.

  • Coughing that can produce mucus that is yellow, green, or bloody
  • Sweating, fever, and chills
  • Confusion in an elderly patient
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting and nausea in younger patients
  • Shallow breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low energy, fatigue, and a loss of appetite
  • Chest pain that worsens with coughing or deep breathing

Bacterial pneumonia generally has more severe symptoms than other forms of pneumonia. It can cause high fevers, heavy sweating, increased pulse and breathing rate, and blue-colored extremities from the lack of oxygen.

Viral pneumonia symptoms develop over time. Earlier symptoms are very similar to the common cold or influenza, including a dry cough, weakness, muscle pain, fever, and headaches. Symptoms worsen over a period of a few days, with worse coughing, muscle pain, and shortness of breath. Some patients also experience high fevers and blue lips from a lack of oxygen.

Types of Pneumonia

Pneumonia can come from a variety of different sources, including the following.

Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia

Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) is a form of pneumonia that occurs 48 or more hours after hospital admission. Additionally, for it to be hospital-acquired, it must not have been incubating when the patient was admitted to the hospital. One subcategory of HAP is ventilator-associated pneumonia. This type of pneumonia develops more than 48 hours after a patient is put on a ventilator.

Health Care-Acquired Pneumonia

While in a healthcare facility, elderly patients are at an increased risk of developing pneumonia. If older adults with a weakened immune system are in a long-term care facility, they are at a higher risk of bacterial pneumonia. 

Community-Acquired Pneumonia

In general, community-acquired pneumonia is pneumonia that individuals contract outside of a healthcare facility. Experts estimate that community-acquired pneumonia is the third most common cause of being hospitalized in older patients.

Aspiration Pneumonia

This occurs when individuals (often older adults) inhale something other than oxygen and air. Examples include food, saliva, drinks, or other substances. Elderly adults who have trouble swallowing are at a much higher risk of severe illness. 

How Long Does It Take to Get Rid of Pneumonia in the Elderly?

If simply trying to prevent pneumonia fails, it is important to provide proper treatment for older patients with pneumonia. Unfortunately, recovery is a long process for many. While many feel relief from the respiratory infection after around 6 weeks, others need 6 months to fully recover. Factors that influence recovery times include immune system strength, whether or not the patient has a penicillin allergy, chronic lung problems, lung disease, blood pressure, and much more. 

Contact Curcio & Casciato Today

If you believe someone you loved has been a victim of any type of elder abuse, contact a nursing home abuse lawyer Chicago at Curcio & Casciato at 312-321-1111 today for a free consultation. Our attorneys handle a variety of cases involving nursing home negligence, including Chicago nursing home bed sores, nursing home falls, elder abuse, and much more.

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