As everyone in North Dakota knows, the winters can be brutal for all of us. For the elderly, the cold, harsh winter months can be downright dangerous, particularly for those who are already suffering from any type of medical condition that threatens the immune system or impacts the heart or lungs. If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home, the threat of pneumonia is of particular concern over the winter months. With stories of elder abuse and neglect popping up in the news on a daily basis, you may be concerned about the care your elderly loved one is receiving in the nursing home – and with good cause because neglect can easily turn a common cold into pneumonia for an elderly patient. To protect your elderly loved one you need to understand what pneumonia is, how it develops, and what signs and symptoms you should look for over the coming months.
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a type of lung infection, caused by a virus or bacteria. The lungs are filled with thousands of tubes, called bronchi, which end in smaller sacs called alveoli. Each one has a fine mesh of capillaries. This is where oxygen is added to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed. If a person has pneumonia, the alveoli in one or both lungs fill with pus and fluids (exudate), which interferes with the gas exchange. This is sometimes known as ‘consolidation and collapse of the lung’.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be triggered by a cold or bout of flu, which allows the germs to gain access to the alveoli. Pneumonia is usually the result of a pneumococcal infection, caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Many different types of bacteria, including Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus, can also cause pneumonia, as well as viruses and, more rarely, fungi. About 50 percent of pneumonia cases are caused by viral infections; however, the elderly are particularly susceptible to a specific type of pneumonia known as “hospital acquired pneumonia.” This type of pneumonia develops in a hospital while the individual is being treated for another condition or having an operation. Patients in intensive care on breathing machines are particularly at risk of developing ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Nursing Home Pneumonia Risks
Elderly nursing home residents are at a heightened risk of contracting pneumonia for several reasons, including:
- Many are already suffering from health conditions that have weakened their immune responses and/or their heart or lungs.
- A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of contracting pneumonia
- Nursing homes, like hospitals, are often breeding grounds for infections because of the sheer number of people who are sick.
- Sadly, many nursing homes neglect the residents, increasing the risk that a common winter cold or flu will develop into a much more serious condition such as pneumonia
Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia
Whether it is because they are over-worked, understaffed, or simply indifferent, the reality is that many nursing home workers overlook the signs and symptoms of pneumonia until the condition reaches the life-threatening stage. If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home, therefore, it may fall on you to recognize the signs and symptoms of pneumonia in time to get your loved one help. If you notice any of the following, have your loved one examined by a physician immediately:
- rapid breathing
- breathing difficulties
- general malaise
- loss of appetite
- sweating and shivering
- abdominal pain
- chest pain
- blue coloration of the skin around the mouth (cyanosis), caused by lack of oxygen
- confusion and disorientation
This s one of those situations where it is better to be safe than worry. When caught early on, pneumonia can often be treated with antibiotics and bedrest; however, if not diagnosed early on, particularly if the patient is elderly, pneumonia can progress to the point where it becomes life-threatening. Pleurisy can develop, characterized by the thin linings between your lungs and ribcage (pleura) become inflamed, which can lead to respiratory failure.
Contact the experienced elder law estate planning attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.
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