ARTICLES / General / It's
By Betsy Murphy, FNP, CHPN
indicator is propensity for
developing infections. It is well known that there is a
progressive decline in the power of the immune system with
aging. Before the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940’s,
many elderly people died from pneumonia.
Pneumonia was called “the old man’s friend” as it
promised a swift death.
We may think of pneumonia as being curable, but many
elderly people are at risk to contract pneumonia and at risk to
die from pneumonia. If a person is older than 75, they have a
six times greater chance of getting pneumonia than if they were
60 years old. This is because the lung has lost its elasticity.
In addition, changes in the brain and nervous system affect
their ability to cough up secretions, which is essential to
overcoming pneumonia. Some elderly people have difficulty with
swallowing and may cough while eating, inhaling liquid into
their lungs. This is called aspiration, and can cause them to
get pneumonia repeatedly.
Some elderly people also develop infections of the
urinary tract, which can be treated, but which further weaken
early that your loved one is declining has many advantages. You
can tell your health care provider how you want those final
months to be, so he or she can support you in your plan.
Services can be put in place at home or in a facility so that if
a crisis arises, it can be managed without going to a hospital.
If you are able to get hospice care in place, oxygen and
medications for comfort will be on hand should a medical crisis
arise. Nurses will do routine in-home assessments and advise you
as to what you can expect. You and your family will be better
If you suspect
your elderly loved one is declining, you can ask for a “hospice
consult.” and a nurse will come to your home and advise you and
your healthcare provider about eligibility. In-home support and
availability of comfort
measures is the key to successful care at the end of