In the United States, more than 1.4 million citizens reside in nursing homes. These facilities are responsible for providing care and treatment to those elderly who can no longer receive it at home. Modern medicine and advancements in technology have now increased the life expectancy for populations across the globe. Due to this, the global population is aging. And so, in the next few years, the number of nursing home residents is expected to rise significantly.
While nursing homes provide comfort and care for the aged population, they come with their own set of unseen dangers that can have dire consequences. Of these, the most common health hazard is the risk of infections. Several factors like weakened immune systems, comorbidities, and grouped quarter living can increase the chances of acquiring infections.
Illnesses in a nursing home are not out of the ordinary. However, despite the billions of taxpayers’ money flowing through these facilities each year, most continue to provide substandard care. These increase the risk of infections which consequently influences rates of mortality, morbidity, hospitalizations, and healthcare costs. Knowing which of these diseases are most likely to occur in nursing homes can help develop better preventive measures to reduce the rate of infected individuals.
Here, we list the five most common infections prevailing in nursing homes today.
1. Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections or UTIs are among the most common diseases diagnosed in nursing homes. They develop when urine stays in the bladder for too long, allowing the bacteria to grow in the urinary tract and cause illness. Mishandling of catheters by nursing home staff can also increase the risk of developing UTIs. In such cases, suing a nursing home for negligence is a valid claim because helping residents use the bathroom falls within their job responsibilities.
An individual suffering from a UTI may complain of having any one or all of the following problems:
- a persistent urge to urinate
- bloody, dark, or cloudy urine
- pain in the lower abdomen
- burning sensation while urinating
- fever, chills, or nausea
Although UTIs aren’t 100% preventable, nursing homes can take preemptive measures to reduce the risk of developing such infections. These include frequently changing catheters, helping immobile residents with bathroom visits, and ensuring they drink plenty of fluids.
Epidemiological studies suggest that pneumonia acquired at nursing homes occurs in nearly 1 or 2 patients for every 1000 days they spend in residence. It’s a severe medical condition and is the leading cause of death among people residing in nursing homes. Although elderly individuals are already at risk of getting pneumonia, those living in nursing homes or long-term facilities are more prone to this disease. Other risk factors like diabetes and cardiopulmonary illnesses also increase the threat of acquiring pneumonia in aging individuals.
Some common symptoms of pneumonia include:
- fever, chills, and sweating
- chest pains while breathing or coughing
- low body temperature
Since most of these symptoms are common in senior patients, diagnosing pneumonia may be challenging.
3. Skin and soft tissue infections
Lack of mobility and disability are typical in nursing home patients. They often remain in bed for long periods. This immobility can cause bed sores and damage the skin, allowing bacteria and other pathogens to use it as an entry point to infect the body. Due to weakened immune responses, wounds also take a long time to heal in elderly patients fully. These open wounds are active sites for foreign particles to embed and cause irritation and infections.
Skin and soft tissue infections can range from simple skin inflammation to severe illnesses like necrotizing fasciitis or staph infections. While young and healthy people can benefit from treatments, skin infections can devastatingly impact the aging population.
Influenza poses a grave hazard for the elderly population and can develop into pneumonia or even cause death. Although it can affect people of all age groups, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) includes nursing home residents as one of the more at-risk groups for its complications. Simple cough and flu can worsen with time and cause bronchitis, sinus, ear infections, or aggravate other medical conditions. Since the influenza virus can quickly spread through sneezing, coughing, or close communication, it can become incredibly challenging to control its transmission.
A primary measure to prevent influenza-related complications and reduce hospitalization rates is to get vaccinated. Besides keeping the residents safe, this also avoids a potential influenza outbreak in communities.
Gastroenteritis refers to the stomach and intestinal inflammation due to the accumulation of bacterial toxins or viral infection. The leading cause of this disease is the consumption of contaminated food or drink. Sharing utensils, food, and other items with someone who is infected can also result in gastroenteritis. Since nursing home residents live in close quarters and often share meals, these practices increase the risk of spreading viruses that cause the disease. Other lifestyle habits like poor hand hygiene, alcohol or laxative abuse, and medicinal side effects can also cause gastroenteritis. Typically it causes short-term effects like:
- appetite loss
- cramps and abdominal pain
If left untreated, gastroenteritis may develop into long-term complications that can severely affect an elderly’s health. The most common of these complications is dehydration. It is crucial to replenish the water lost during gastroenteritis; otherwise, it can cause neurological complications, kidney failure, or death. Additionally, the loss of beneficial gut bacteria due to diarrhea imbalances the immune system and makes the body susceptible to other diseases.
Despite being particularly susceptible to infectious diseases, nursing home residents don’t always receive the standard of care they deserve. Their frail bodies and weakened immune systems keep them from fighting infections that may not be considered dangerous among the youth. Although treatments for these diseases are often available, they aren’t as effective for the elderly and may cause further complications. Therefore, nursing home staff must take careful precautions and implement relevant measures to reduce the risk of infections occurring in the first place.