By Anna Hazard
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The risk of infections poses an increasing danger as people age to the point that more than 33% (greater than 1/3) of all deaths of those 65+ can be attributed to an infectious disease. In particular, gram-negative bacteria are responsible for more infections in the elderly than in younger adults.
Seniors are overall more susceptible to infections due to diminished immune responses, decreased physical reserves, a greater likelihood of the presence of chronic diseases & medications for treatment which can cause further complications, as well as a greater chance for requiring invasive procedures that leave them more vulnerable to infections. In addition, there are higher rates of exposure to infection (including more dangerous antibiotic resistant strains) at hospitals and institutional group settings such as nursing homes & senior care centers.
Besides a greater overall susceptibility, early detection & treatment of older adults for infections can be further complicated by symptoms which are more subtle & nonspecific and generally manifesting differently than in younger patients. One of the most common symptoms of infection is fever, which may not be noticed within an older adult due to an aging person's poorer body temperature response. Due to their white blood cell count often not rising as high as the norm in a younger adult, many of the common blood tests will not properly detect infections in the elderly.
Some common symptoms for various infections within seniors include loss of appetite, weight loss, loss of balance & falling, cognitive impairment & decline in functioning, delirium & other mental changes, as well as an increase in respiratory rate.
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