Infections are common for all ages, but they are generally easier to diagnose and treat in younger populations. For older adults, the lines become blurred. Sometimes, the symptoms of an infectious disease mimic symptoms of other conditions or the senior is having trouble communicating how they feel. Sadly, one third of all deaths in seniors over the age of 65 are from infectious diseases, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Let’s go over the most common infectious diseases for older adults and the signs to look for.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are the most frequent bacterial infections in older adults. There are a number of factors for this, including the use of catheters or diabetes. If a UTI is not treated, it can lead to sepsis – an infection in the bloodstream. Though UTIs are usually accompanied with pain, itching and burning, this isn’t always the same for seniors. If you suspect a UTI, the doctor can confirm with a urinalysis.
Skin infections are more common with age because the skin changes and often becomes thin and more prone to cuts, scrapes and bruises, which can lead to infection. Other skin infections to watch for include viral infections like herpes, bacterial or fungal foot infections, cellulitis or MRSA.
The good bacteria in the gut changes with age and the use of medications. This can throw things off and lead to gastrointestinal infections such as H. pylori, C. difficile or gastritis. Signs of a gastrointestinal problem include fever, nausea and upper abdominal pain. These problems also tend to be more common in assisted living facilities.
Influenza and Pneumonia
Influenza and pneumonia can be very serious for the elderly, particularly those with weakened immune systems. While both infections are more common in nursing homes, an older adult can pick them up from anywhere. A cough, chills and fever are the most common symptoms, though older adults may experience delirium or confusion instead. Antiviral medications are often given to seniors when they have influenza to prevent it from turning into pneumonia.
Seniors are always at a greater risk for getting sick and suffering complications because their immune systems are less effective. While there is no way to prevent all infections, it does help to practice good health measures such as washing hands, covering the mouth when you cough or sneeze and getting a flu shot each year. For caregivers, stay alert and one step ahead. It could make all the difference for someone’s health and quality of life.