Pneumonia. It sounds serious, and it is.
Pneumonia: Know the risks
Dr.explains that while some viruses can cause pneumonia, most cases of pneumonia are bacterial.
Pneumonia is a highly communicable disease that is transmitted by airborne pathogens and direct contact with infected coughing secretions. It is most contagious in the beginning stages of the illness and is easily passed from person to person, especially in crowded or communal living conditions.
She outlines some reasons why seniors are most at risk:
Aging can lead to a general decrease in muscle strength and a decline in the body’s overall function. This can make one more susceptible to stressors and increase the risk for adverse health outcomes.
With general muscle weakness, elders are often unable to clear secretions from the lungs (from illness, aspiration of oral bacteria or food, and even stomach contents from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)). It is this inability to clear mucous or other elements from the lungs that increases pneumonia risk.
Weakened immune systems
A weakened immune system is a natural part of aging. So, no matter how ‘healthy,’ seniors are more at risk for diseases like pneumonia because they may have a harder time fighting off the infections. Seniors are often taking medications that can further compromise the immune system, like steroids and chemotherapy.
Many seniors have chronic conditions, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and heart disease, which increase their risk for developing pneumonia. And if the chronic conditions are not well controlled, one has a lung condition like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or is exposed to cigarette smoke, the risks are even greater.
“Some conditions further weaken the immune system, or require medications that have the same effect; other conditions can mask some of the common symptoms of pneumonia, so managing seniors’ overall health plays an essential role in pneumonia prevention,” says Dr. Marrero.
Because pneumonia is an infectious disease, seniors’ environments can put them at risk. “Living in group care settings can increase exposure to the disease-producing agents that cause pneumonia,” says experts
In addition, there are peak times of concern that could pose more pneumonia risks, including during the flu season (which in Florida tends to be year-round), during the holiday season when larger groups of people are together and at times when travel becomes more popular.