Last time we talked about common infections in the elderly, why they happen and how to recognize two of them. Today we’re going to be talking about three more – and about prevention, too.
1. Can’t stomach it – gastrointestinal infection in the elderly
What it is: With age come changes to the digestive system and to the over 3 trillion (yes you read that right) beneficial bacteria called gastrointestinal flora. Those changes don’t make digestion any easier – and they leave your loved one more prone to gastrointestinal infections. The two most common ones are h. pylori and c. difficile.
What it looks like: With both of these, if you see that your loved one is in pain, has fever, or is complaining of problems with digestion, make an appointment with their primary care physician immediately. If Mom or Dad live in an assisted living or skilled nursing community, alert the medical team there. Both h. pylori and c. difficile are highly contagious.
2. Skin Deep – Skin infections in older adults
What it is: Changes to the skin mean that the older a person gets, the more fragile their skin becomes. When skin is dry and it loses its elasticity, it becomes more prone to infection. The most common skin infections in the elderly include cellulitis, foot infections like athletes’ foot, skin ulcers, shingles, and viral skin infections. While these aren’t life-threatening they are extremely uncomfortable and, if left untreated, can lead to hospitalization.
What it looks like: If you see your loved one itching, in pain or with cuts and scrapes that seem out of proportion, you need to be concerned that they might have a skin infection. Get medical attention for them as soon as you can, because if you catch them early they’re relatively easy to treat.
What it is: UTIs, or urinary tract infections, are very common in older adults. Illnesses like diabetes and kidney stones exacerbate the conditions that lead to UTIs, and seniors with catheters are at extra risk. Weakened muscle control also leaves the elderly open to UTIs.
What it looks like: This is really tricky, because UTIs don’t cause the same symptoms in older adults as they do in younger people. Look out for irritability, confusion, dizziness, poor motor skills and even falling. If you think that sounds a lot like dementia, you’re right; that’s why UTIs are even harder to detect in Alzheimer’s patients. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s suddenly seems to take a turn for the worse – or your perfectly cognizant mom suddenly starts acting as though she has dementia – make sure they see a doctor.
As your loved one ages, their bodies become more susceptible to infection and illness. By gaining knowledge and keeping an eye on them, your giving them the greatest gift possible: the gift of good care.