Why Are Elderly More Prone to Infections?

Debbie, daughter of two parents from the silent generation, informed me she is worried about her parents failing health.  Her parents swallow more pills than they do food these days.  Debbie has her hands full with just keeping her parents as healthy as possible.  The latest problem is her father keeps getting bacteria infections. His immune system is unable to fight off the invasions like it used to.

It is inevitable.  One day we all most get old.  Debbie’s situation is not unique.  Everywhere I turn I hear more stories about the ailments of co-workers’ parents that with each passing day bring more medical troubles.  Infections seem to strike especially hard with the older generations.  With over 75 million baby boomers quickly approaching their senior years, I wonder how many bacteria infections will inflict their wrath on this generation.   I am sure the medical insurance companies are closely monitoring and predicting the cost this will ensue.

Why then are elderly susceptible to infections over the young?

Doctors conclude there are several factors that make elderly more vulnerable.  Seniors who have comorbid conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are predisposed to infections.  The body works harder to maintain deficiencies in its system.  When the body is forced to work harder in failing areas, the other areas of the body become unguarded and easy targets for bacteria.  It is a known fact that as our bodies’ age, our immune systems weaken.  This again makes elderly much more susceptible to infections.  Then add in frailty on top of that.  When bodies become frail, the body mass index drops causing limbs to fail when needed.  How many elderly do you know that broke a hip from falling?  And more importantly did they fully recover or only get worse?  Chances are they got worse.  Why, because frailty leads to injuries which in turn exposes elderly to a higher risk of bacteria infections.  Especially when placed in hospitals and nursing homes with high germ counts.

What can be done to prevent infections in the elderly?

The first way seniors can prevent infections is by staying active.  Active bodies and minds are much stronger than bodies that are inactive.  Another way to ward off infections is to practice good hygiene.  Washing hands often with soap by staff greatly reduces cross contamination of bacteria infections in hospitals and nursing homes.  Hospitals also use cleaning disinfectants to sterilize patient homes. A good disinfectant can kill off unwanted bacteria, preventing infections.  People like Debbie, whose parents still reside in their own home, should make sure their houses are cleaned weekly and disinfected.  In nursing homes meticulous disinfecting of bathrooms and common areas will also reduce cross contamination infections of the elderly.

The silent generation is essentially the guinea pigs for what we can expect to happen to the 75 million plus baby boomers in the near future.  By practicing good disinfecting and staying active baby boomers and silent geners can prolong their health.  The Farmer’s Almanac quoted “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away”.  Perhaps this quote could be revised to say, “a disinfected house each day, keeps the doctor away.”  What do you think?


Shafer, Emily. “Comorbidities, metabolic changes make elderly more susceptible to infection.” Infectious Disease News. Healio Infectious Disease, Sep 2011. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <http://www.healio.com/infectious-disease/news/print/infectious-disease-news/{a029cda7-ca04-4b1e-98ae-677d27670ceb}/comorbidities-metabolic-changes-make-elderly-more-susceptible-toinfection>.


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