In Valencia and elsewhere, elderly people are 13 times more likely to develop sepsis than any other age group. That means that in-home care for your senior loved one should include checking for the signs and symptoms of sepsis, which are described below. Of all sepsis cases that require hospitalization over 65% involve people over the age of 65. Even worse, sepsis accounts for so many fatalities among the elderly, that it has become the tenth leading cause of death in seniors. Some sepsis cases result in organ failure, or amputation of extremities, and suffer long-term effects such as cognitive decline and other physical limitations. In this article, we’ll discuss important things to know about sepsis. Since September is Sepsis Awareness Month, now is a great time to increase your understanding of sepsis and what can be done to reduce your risk and treat this condition.
What exactly is sepsis?
To put it simply, sepsis is a wild overreaction of your body’s immune system to an identified threat such as an infection. The immune system begins attacking your body’s organs and tissues, leading to all kinds of problems and failures. If the condition is identified early enough, it can be treated successfully with antibiotics and various fluids. If not found early, the outlook isn’t nearly as optimistic, and of the 1.5 million people afflicted by sepsis at any given time, it can be expected that more than 350,000 of them will die within a few years. Sepsis is known to be the most expensive medical condition confronting U.S. hospitals at present – but 80% of afflicted patients can be saved if the disease is diagnosed early on.
Causes of sepsis
Many older people may develop sepsis as a result of weakened immune systems and a general frailty. This can happen as a result of the aging process, with the immune system gradually becoming less effective. Sepsis can also be triggered by having an extended hospital stay, or as a result of some kind of surgery. Having IVs inserted, or being fed through a feeding tube can be entry points for infection to invade the body and trigger the development of sepsis. Another common cause of sepsis is having a chronic disease like stroke, heart failure, diabetes, and lung or kidney disease. Recurring urinary tract infections that go untreated may also lead to sepsis. All these can progress into an infection that runs amok in the body and leads to sepsis.
Symptoms of sepsis
Some symptoms of sepsis can be confused with other conditions, so it’s important to have the symptoms below checked out by your family doctor when observed in a senior family member:
- pain and physical discomfort, expressed frequently by the patient
- skin that appears mottled or dusky
- increased heart rate
- rapid, shallow breathing
- either fever or chills and sometimes both in succession
- confusion, fatigue, and tiredness, when these conditions were not exhibited by the patient previously.
Of course, the mere fact of relatively advanced age is a big risk factor for developing sepsis, given the fact that older adults dominate the statistics of people afflicted by sepsis. Apart from this, by far, the biggest risk factor for developing sepsis is sustaining some kind of infection. This infection is what causes the immune system to spring into action and mistakenly continue attacking tissues and organs long after the real threat has been neutralized. It’s also worth noting that seniors as a group are far more prone to infection than any other group, which is one big reason why seniors are impacted more heavily than others. This being the case, here are the greatest risk factors for incurring some kind of infection:
- receiving extended care at a hospital or in a hospital setting
- having an immune system that has previously been compromised or weakened
- having some kind of chronic illness, such as stroke, diabetes, etc.
Treatments for sepsis
The best treatment for sepsis, as for almost any disease, is prevention. In order to prevent the onset of sepsis, it will be necessary to avoid getting any kind of infection. While this may sound difficult, it is certainly not impossible. Anytime a wound or injury is sustained, prompt hygienic treatment will ensure that no infection can begin at the wound site. Infection occurs more often as a result of neglect, oversight, or underestimation of the medical situation.
Assuming that an individual is beyond the prevention stage, sepsis is generally treated with antibiotics because these have historically been successful in handling infections. Vasopressors and IV fluids can help to increase low blood pressure and maintain hydration. When sepsis is treated early and aggressively, the survival rate is much better than at other times. If the disease is allowed to worsen, it will often require close monitoring in a hospital setting, often in an intensive care unit.