When a person has dementia, their immune system can often be compromised leading them to develop other medical conditions.

One of the most common acute conditions that people in the later stages of dementia end up getting is pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, where sections of one or both lungs, fills with fluid. If not treated properly, pneumonia can be fatal.

One case study, mentioned in The New York Times, looked at 323 residents living in Boston-area nursing homes had entered the final stages of dementia.

Their average age was 86, and they’d all developed pneumonia.

This is often a very common situation; within a person’s final three months, more than a third of patients with advanced dementia have pneumonia.

What Does Pneumonia Look Like?

Pneumonia symptoms can often appear similar to flu symptoms. It’s important to correctly diagnose the correct condition so that the person receive proper treatment.  

Typical symptoms include;

  • A cough which has thick yellow, green, or brownish phlegm – sometimes blood stained.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating, shivering and feeling generally unwell

The Different Types of Pneumonia

What some people may not be aware of, is that there are different kinds of pneumonia. The most common two types are viral and bacterial pneumonia.

Viral Pneumonia

This is the kind that tends to occur more often in colder weather, and is caused by viruses that cause cold and flu. This kind of pneumonia usually quite mild.

Bacterial Pneumonia

This kind of pneumonia is much more common than viral pneumonia, as well as being much more serious.

Older people are at a greater risk of developing bacterial pneumonia, especially if there are in hospital or living in aged care. The bacteria which cause this type of so called ‘hospital acquired’ pneumonia tends to be more resistant to antibiotic treatment.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Also known as “bronchopneumonia”, aspiration pneumonia is caused when food or liquid goes “down the wrong pipe”. That is, it goes down the trachea down to the lungs instead of the esophagus.

Although this kind of pneumonia is generally not a common, it is more prevalent in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – and is one of leading causes of death in people with dementia.

This is because a condition called dysphagia causes difficulties with swallowing, which can make it more likely for them to breathe food and drink in.

Treating Pneumonia in People with Dementia

The typical treatment route for pneumonia is antibiotics, and plenty of bed rest.

There is also a vaccine to protect people from the most common kind of bacterial pneumonia – streptococcus pneumonia.

However, for more severe symptoms like breathing difficulties, the person may need to be treated in hospital.

One of the most common complications is pleurisy – when the lining between the lungs and rib cage become inflamed, or when fluid builds up between the lungs and the wall of the chest. Here, the infected fluid needs to be drained away.

Something that people should be aware of is that for some older people, their ability to cope with infection and other physical problems may become impaired due to the progress of dementia.

And therefore, in many cases death may be hastened as a result of these conditions.

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Disclaimer: Please be aware the above article is merely information – not advice. If readers need medical advice, they should consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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