In Olive Branch and elsewhere around the United States, September has been designated as Sepsis Awareness Month. It will be a time for calling attention to the dangers of sepsis for seniors especially, and for planning fund-raisers that will help to fund ongoing research into the disease. Sepsis is a relatively widespread bacterial infection that is frequently accompanied by low blood pressure and can become a real danger. A severe bout of sepsis at an early age can come back in later years to cause cognitive problems that can be quite problematic. Research has shown that the long-term effects of a sepsis infection can eventually be calamitous, requiring full-time senior home care or assisted living.
Prevalence of Sepsis
Researchers have estimated that there are 20,000 new cases of cognitive impairment managed each year, and these are directly attributable to the effects of sepsis. Most older Americans who contract sepsis will be obliged to experience years of physical and cognitive impairment, and may even have to be placed in a nursing home to receive full-time care. If the patient remains at home, it can get to be a huge burden on family caretakers, or professionals who provide care, either part-time or full-time. The ironic part of all this is that it’s usually the body’s own immune system that causes the greatest damage, incorrectly judging an infection to be more severe than it is. The infection gets attacked by the immune system, and then the immunity reaction continues by attacking other, healthy tissue as well, including the vital organs of the body on some occasions.
Why sepsis is so problematic for seniors
When someone experiences a sepsis infection, it’s very likely that the infection will be accompanied by low blood pressure, sometimes even dangerously low blood pressure. This can actually cause significant brain damage that will lead to cognitive impairment at a later age. Many dementia patients suffered sepsis bouts in earlier years, and the damage caused at that time has led to dementia as a senior. It frequently happens that sepsis patients have bouts of delirium. Since the inflammation and infection of sepsis can also attack the muscles of the body, physical therapy becomes a critical part of post-sepsis care. If this physical therapy gets ignored, it’s entirely possible that severe physical constraints will develop later in senior life. The best prevention for a sepsis infection is to ensure that your senior loved one receives regular flu and pneumonia vaccines so that infection doesn’t have a chance to take hold.
Risk factors for sepsis
Because it can have such devastating effects on a senior, you should understand the risk factors for contracting sepsis, and take precautions accordingly with your senior loved one. Anyone who has a compromised or weakened immune system is at greater risk of contracting sepsis, as is anyone who actually does get some kind of infection. People who have undergone surgeries or who have been forced into an extended hospital stay are also at greater risk for contracting sepsis. Part of the danger of a hospital stay includes having catheters, IVs, or feeding tubes inserted into the body, and this increases the possibility of infection. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart attack, hypertension, and lung or kidney disease also make a person more prone to contracting sepsis, because the immune system is always in operation.
Treatment of sepsis
Of course, the best treatment for sepsis is prevention. Since the greatest risk of contracting sepsis originates from an infection, all precautions should be taken to avoid having your senior get any kind of infection. When an infection does occur, it needs to be treated immediately so it doesn’t have the opportunity to progress and worsen. All wounds should be cared for properly and immediately, so as to lessen the chances of an infection. And as already mentioned, it’s a good idea to have your senior inoculated against whatever strain of flu or pneumonia is making the rounds this year.
Apart from precautions that can be taken, once a patient has been diagnosed with sepsis, there are several medications that can be taken to lessen the severity of symptoms. Antibiotics are one possibility because they attack the infection and try to get it under control. Vasopressors or anti-hypotensive agents, will work to raise the blood pressure of someone who has dangerously low readings. In some cases, IV fluids are used to help accomplish the same thing. When treatment is administered early and aggressively, the chances of surviving a bout with sepsis are much greater. On the other hand, when a senior is afflicted by a severe case of sepsis, it will generally require treatment in an intensive care unit, and constant monitoring will be necessary so as to avoid problems.