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Fighting Respiratory Infections in Older Adults

| Medical

While COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on the global population, respiratory infections aren’t new news.

Among younger people, most respiratory infections cause mild illness that might cause a person to spend a few uncomfortable days at home from work or school. But symptoms can be more serious, even fatal, for seniors. These illnesses rob seniors of their mobility, strength and ability to complete daily tasks.

There are many viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory infections, but here are a few that we would like to share with you.

Bacterial pneumonia is caused by several different strains of bacteria. It causes inflammation and fluid accumulation in the lungs, often with fever and chest pain. Confusion is a common symptom in older adults. Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics and medications to relieve symptoms. Hospitalisation is sometimes necessary.

Seasonal influenza a.k.a the flu is especially dangerous for older adults. This demographic makes up more than 90% of deaths caused by influenza. Common symptoms include headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, cough and sore throat. Some older adults also may have digestive symptoms. The flu can be treated with antiviral medications, which are most effective if started at the onset of illness.

The common cold can result from infection by many different viruses – all of which can be more serious for older adults. The most common culprits of colds are the human rhinoviruses (HRV). Others include human metapneumovirus (HMPV), adenoviruses and enteroviruses. Most of us know the symptoms of a cold because we’ve had several during our lives – sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. There is no remedy for a cold, but supportive self-care includes getting extra rest and drinking plenty of fluids. The doctor may recommend medications to minimise symptoms.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. It is most common among children, but also causes many hospitalisations and deaths in older adults. RSV can progress to pneumonia and complications of the heart and lungs. Older adults may need oxygen or intubation.

Coronaviruses are the family of viruses that include COVID-19 and several other respiratory viruses. Typical symptoms include fever, cough and fatigue. Among older adults, the most noticeable symptoms might include confusion and difficulty breathing.

People aged 65 and older are at higher risk of serious complications. As we grow older, our immune systems are less able to fight germs. Weaker bones and muscles, as well as changes to the nervous system, may impair breathing and make coughing less productive. The presence of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, dementia and chronic kidney disease, also raises the risk of serious respiratory infections. Malnutrition, inactivity and smoking also are factors. Certain medications that are often prescribed for older adults can also raise the risk – as can the failure to take medications properly.

Diagnosis and treatment of respiratory infections

Doctors say pinpointing the cause of a respiratory illness in older adults can be tricky. The “typical” symptoms – fever and congestion – may be absent in seniors, who might instead experience an unexplained fall or confusion. An accurate diagnosis is key to beginning the appropriate treatment. Health care providers analyse their patient’s condition, including testing secretions and blood work. They often include radiologic imaging such as X-rays and CT scans. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment might include antibiotic or antiviral medications, as well as medicines for symptomatic relief. Often a patient may be hospitalised and receive supplemental oxygen or require a breathing tube.

Five ways to lower the risk of respiratory infections:

  • Get your vaccines for COVID-19, seasonal influenza and pneumonia.
  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing hands frequently and correctly.
  • Wear a mask and ask others to do so.
  • Avoid being around others who appear ill or are ill.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that people touch frequently.

Professional in-home care can help

If an older adult is recovering at home from a respiratory infection, in-home caregivers can help by providing expert care in line with the doctor’s orders, and bettering outcomes by assisting with personal care and tasks around the home as the patient recovers their strength. For all older adults, professional in-home caregivers can help lower the risk of serious respiratory infections. Caregivers help clients avoid dangerous undernutrition by preparing healthy meals and snacks. They also provide support and encouragement as clients exercise to build endurance and a stronger immune system. Caregivers can provide health reminders and transportation to medical appointments ensuring clients manage pre-existing health conditions.

Right at Home caregivers are trained in infection control practices and provide services that support both the physical and emotional health of our clients. Contact your local Right at Home office today and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

Keep up to date with COVID 19 information on the following links: 

Australian Government Department of Health 

Victorian Health and Human Services 

NSW Health 

Queensland Health 

ACT Health 

WA Department of Health 

Tasmanian Department of Health 

Northern Territory Department of Health 

SA Health 

Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care, and assistance to seniors (elderly and aged care), and any adult who needs our care at home including adults living with a disability who want to continue to live independently or age in their home. Right at Home is your local expert for issues related to caring for your loved ones and is dedicated to keeping you informed about home care. With no admin or subscription fees Right at Home allows you to get more care from your package or budget. 

Right at Home is a 'My Aged Care' government approved, home care provider for levels 1 – 4 and offers flexible in-home care services such as nursing care, after hospital care, post-operative care, respite care, dementia and Alzheimer's care. Right at Home also offers assistance with daily living and personal care such as grooming, hygiene, transport, shopping, meal prep, domestic services and social support, so your loved one can enjoy a more independent, vibrant life. Our nurses and caregivers are screened, highly trained, and insured prior to entering your home so you can trust us with the caregiving while you focus on your loved one. 

To find out more, please give us a call on 1300 363 802 or visit our website. 

Right at Home Offices in Australia: Sydney Lower North Shore; Sydney Upper North Shore; Sydney Central and Eastern Suburbs; Sydney Northern Beaches; Sydney North West; Sydney The Hills; Padstow St George; Macarthur Penrith; Newcastle; Hunter & Port Stephens; Southern NSW; Toowoomba- Darling Downs; Sunshine Coast and Gympie; Mackay; Central Queensland; Townsville; Far North Queensland; Gold Coast South; Gold Coast North; Northern Rivers; Brisbane Bayside; Brisbane South; Brisbane North; Brisbane West; Perth Midland; Perth Northern Suburbs; Perth West Coast; Kalgoorlie Wheatbelt; Moreton Bay Region; Sydney Inner West; Sydney Ryde; Greater Logan; Gosford; Sydney Liverpool 

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