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Symptoms of Pneumonia in Elderly Often Missed by Caregivers

Omaha, NE (PRWEB) February 14, 2012

Nabin Sapkota, MD, a board certified internist, makes an appeal to the family members of elderly patients to learn about the early symptoms of pneumonia to help save more lives.

“You may miss the window of opportunity to save your Grandma’s life if you wait for the doctor to diagnose her pneumonia”, says the Nebraska doctor. Every year more than 50,000 people die from pneumonia in the United States according to the latest CDC data. Dr. Sapkota works as a Hospitalist at the Columbus Community Hospital in Nebraska and admits several patients with pneumonia to the ICU every week. “Sometimes, it is very sad to realize that elderly patients with pneumonia die in the hospital simply because they are brought here too late. It is heartbreaking to listen to the stories of their children who feel guilty for the death. They simply think it is their fault because they did not pay attention to the early symptoms and did not bring them to the hospital in time to save their lives.” The doctor adds, “But it is not their fault. We simply do not have any public health awareness campaign out there to tell them what to look for. We are doing a great job telling people about the early symptoms of stroke and that has helped a lot of people. We need to educate people about the early symptoms of pneumonia in elderly patients just like we do for stroke.”

The doctor admits it will not be an easy thing to do. Early symptoms of pneumonia in elderly are very subtle and can be missed even by healthcare providers. “Unlike healthcare providers, children, grandchildren and caregivers of the elderly are very close to the person and know them very well. This is where the window of opportunity lies. You will notice even a small change in your grandma’s behavior that her doctor may not notice. As a close family member you are in a unique position to be able to help your elderly parents and grand parents. But you need to know what to look for to be able to make sense of what you see.”

The doctor makes a sincere appeal to the public, “If you have an elderly person in your family, please read this carefully. Most elderly patients with pneumonia do not have the common or specific symptoms of pneumonia that you read on medical websites and textbooks. The actual symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the unique personal circumstances. It would have been easier to give you a list of symptoms to look for but that will not help you very much. Instead, I will give you a simple explanation of how symptoms of pneumonia appear so that you will be able to make sense of any symptom you notice.”

The doctor explains, “The symptoms of pneumonia can be explored at two different levels: the organ level and the body level. At organ level, pneumonia is a disease of the lungs. When younger people have disease in the lungs, they cough and complain of shortness of breath. The elderly may not be able to react that strongly but you will notice some subtle difference in the way they breathe. They may breathe more rapidly or may take shallow breaths or even may have a grunting noise with every breath. Instead of looking for the exact symptoms, just note if the breathing pattern has changed. On the body level, pneumonia is a type of infection. In younger patients, body reacts to most infections with fevers and chills. The immune system of the elderly may not be strong enough to mount a fever. But if you look carefully, you will see that their body is under stress trying to mount a fever like response. They may just feel cold or tired or sleepy or even confused.If you can remember these simple principles, you can save lives.”

The doctor would like to take this opportunity to ask you to share this message with people that have elderly family members.

“We can work together to save more lives.”


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