The body’s respiratory system has the primary responsibility of extracting oxygen from the surrounding environment and distributing it throughout the body as well as expelling carbon dioxide gas from the body. However, aging causes the bones of the rib case and the diaphragm muscles to weaken and change shape, thereby causing breathing problems among seniors. Weak immune systems also increase the risk of developing respiratory diseases such as:
Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that seniors 65 years and older account for about 90% of all flu-related fatalities that occur in the US annually. The elderly also account for 50 to 70% of all flu hospitalizations recorded every year. As such, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccination for all individuals within this age demographic. Of course, seniors should ensure that their vaccines are suitable for individuals within their age group. In general, flu vaccines for the elderly can be broken into the following categories:
• High dose flu vaccine
• Adjuvanted flu vaccine
Vaccination also makes flu milder in the event seniors fall sick. While flu vaccines may be administered via nasal a spray or injection, the latter option is more suitable for the elderly.
Pneumococcal disease is a condition that is caused by the streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. In the US, it causes 18,000 fatalities among seniors 65 years and older annually according to CDC figures. Besides the elderly, people with compromised immune systems or those living with chronic conditions are likely to develop this condition. The best way to avoid pneumococcal disease is to go for vaccination. The CDC recommends receiving two different pneumococcal vaccines starting with PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) followed by PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine). The first vaccine is formulated to protect seniors against 13 pneumococcus bacteria strains while the latter offers protection against 23 strains of the same bacteria. In some cases, pneumococcal disease causes brain damage, paralysis, and hearing loss. Surprisingly, a carrier can spread the disease without developing/showing any symptoms.
Bronchitis is another respiratory disease that is common among the elderly. It causes inflammation of air passages in the lungs and can last for a few days or several weeks depending on whether it is acute or chronic. While acute bronchitis is easily treatable, chronic bronchitis is a serious medical condition that is hard to treat and has a low recovery rate. Some common symptoms of this disease include coughing, chest pain, wheezing, and shortness of breath. According to the Mayo Clinic, the elderly are particularly prone to bronchitis because they tend to have weak immune systems. Smoking or exposure to lung irritants also increases the risk of bronchitis infection. In some cases, bronchitis infection can cause pneumonia in seniors, thereby degrading their quality of life. Remember, drugs used to treat these health conditions tend to weaken the immunity of the elderly even further. Still, physicians normally prescribe antibiotics and cough medications to treat bronchitis. For seniors with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, physicians may recommend anti-inflammatory medications formulated to clear the airways in the lungs.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Respiratory syncytial virus is a condition that is fast becoming a significant health challenge, especially among seniors under institutionalized care. In fact, figures published in the journal Drugs & Aging show that RSV causes roughly 10,000 deaths every year among Americans 64 years and older. Unfortunately, diagnosing RSV correctly is difficult because its symptoms including coughing, wheezing, and nasal congestion mimic flu symptoms. In addition, antigen detection is extremely difficult due to viral sensitivity challenges. Currently, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assay and serology are the most effective RSV tests. It is worth noting that seniors with compromised immune systems and those living with lung or heart conditions are generally at a higher risk of developing this condition.
Compared to other demographics, the elderly are more prone to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, pneumococcal disease, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza. Since most of these diseases take advantage of a compromised immune system, seniors should be vaccinated against these diseases at least once annually.