Infections are a leading cause of death in adults over 65. Infection concern has lead to the NHS introducing new sepsis campaigns of awareness.
Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection. Chemicals released into the blood to fight infection trigger widespread inflammation.
If you have a relative in a care home it is important to know the warning signs for the most common infections to be able to act before it is too late. Infections lead to discomfort, chronic poor health and a higher risk of hospitalisation or death. Sadly, those with dementia or those who are in long-term care may be at an even greater risk.
Often there are nonspecific symptoms of infection, such as a loss in appetite, a decline in function, loss of mental awareness, incontinence and falls.
The Common Infections
Below is a list of common issues which can cause infection concern:
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common bacterial infection in elderly. If diabetes is present or your relative uses catheters or fails to drink sufficient amounts of water they are at an increased risk of UTI. Don’t wait for them to complain about pain or discomfort as often it is not present. Those with dementia may never report being in pain.
As we age our skin changes and it loses its ability to heal or resist disease. Viral infections such a shingles, pressure ulcers, bacterial or fungal foot infections, diabetic foot, cellulitis or MRSA can cause significant long term pain and discomfort and may even be life threatening.
If your relative moves into a care home they are at increased risk of developing a lung infection due to the change in living conditions. If your loved one has a change in lung capacity, COPD, or diabetes they are at an increased risk of developing pneumonia. More than 60% of elderly (over 65) are admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Whilst they are less likely to suffer a fever or cough, look out for confusion or weakness. A pneumococcal vaccine is always recommended for care home residents.
Contracting the flu and pneumonia together will cause the death of 90% of elderly who contract it. The flu is easily transmitted particularly within the confines of a care home and the elderly often already have a weakened immune system. With annual flu vaccinations recommended in order to prevent infection the difficulty arises with those already infected. Antiviral medication may reduce symptoms but are most unlikely to assist a full recovery.
Everyone’s digestion changes as they get older and we are of increased of developing gastrointestinal infections. Two of the most common are Helicobacter pylori, which may cause nausea, upper abdominal pain, and fever as well as leading to long-term illness such as ulcer or gastritis; and Clostridium difficile, an increasingly common diarreah-causing infection, which usually occurs due to antibiotic treatments that suppress healthy gastrointestinal flora.
Both illnesses are more common in long-term care facilities.
Keeping our elderly healthy and free from preventable infections is a challenge for care home owners let alone family. Those who stay alert and informed and seek early advice about an infection concern fair best. Keep good hygiene and infection control management.
Be informed and keep your loved one safe.