Infection is the leading cause of death in older adults age 65 years and older. It’s easy to guess why. Older adults tend to have a more impaired immune system and the existence of comorbid chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  But with caregiver awareness and proactive health measures, preventing serious infection in older adults is possible.

 

The most common infections include: bacterial pneumonia, elderly influenza, skin infections, gastrointestinal infections, and urinary tract infections.

 

Infection: Early Detection in the Elderly

 

Early detection of infection is critical for effective treatment. However, since patients over 65 exhibit fewer symptoms like coughing, high fever, and chills, early diagnosis can be difficult. Therefore, a caregiver should be vigilant in assessing even subtle changes in the patient’s behavior. Symptoms of infection in the elderly could include:

 

  • Confusion or worsening dementia

  • Sudden change in behavior

  • Urinary incontinence

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unusual itching

  • Diarrhea

 

Vaccinations

 

Vaccination is another effective measure in preventing infection in older adults. For the elderly, vaccinations against influenza, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and herpes zoster are usually recommended as well as booster shots against tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis/polio.

 

Personal Hygiene

 

Personal hygiene can steer infection away. Because physical contact is a major line of transmission, hand washing with soap and clean water is essential.  By washing parts of the body and hair, a person protects herself from not only the germs that lurk invisibly on other people and surfaces, but also prevents the spread of those germs.

 

Healthy Lifestyle

 

It goes without saying that a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and a healthy diet will have a positive effect on a senior’s well-being. In addition, the following proactive measures are important:

  • Health care screenings and regular doctor visits
  • Routine dental care as well as check-ups
  • Advocacy for one’s health
  • Social activities

 

By behaving proactively, older adults can not only treat their infection more effectively, but in some cases, avoid illness altogether.