What are the most common infectious diseases in nursing homes?

words Alexa Wang

Nursing homes are meant to be safe establishments for older citizens needing care, but sometimes they don’t get the help that they need. We see headlines everyday, at the moment, showing us just how vulnerable older people can be especailly from Covid 19.

It’s not just the Coronavirus though that care home residents have to contend with. Unfortunately, nursing homes can be dangerous because the workers there are often underpaid, understaffed, and overworked. This creates an environment where mistakes can happen and this is devastating when it comes to the health of your loved one.

One particular problem is that nursing home residents are vulnerable to infectious diseases. Due to their age and weakened condition, being in an environment that isn’t well-maintained can encourage the spread of infectious diseases.

Several infections might spread in a nursing home, but a few are more common than others. To help you keep an older family member healthy, we’ll point out the most common infectious diseases found in nursing homes below.

diseases nursing homes

Skin Ailments

Nursing home residents are particularly prone to skin ailments.

As you get older, your skin changes. It takes longer to recover from minor wounds and multiple layers of skin begin to die. Because of this, your skin is more sensitive and vulnerable to disease.

In nursing homes, this typically shows up as wounds that are constantly infected. It becomes difficult to keep a wound clean and the poor cleanliness standards of some establishments can make it impossible.

It can also appear in the form of necrotizing fasciitis, herpes, scabies, and cellulitis. Having naturally weakened skin makes it difficult to fight off any of these types of infections.

Making matters worse, these skin infections can spread to other areas of the body. This can be lethal for an older family member. 

Pneumonia

Another major cause for concern is pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections.

This is arguably the greatest infection risk for nursing home patients because it is their most common cause of death. Pneumonia is a serious infection for anyone to deal with, let alone an older nursing home resident with a weakened immune system.

The elderly are at a higher risk of pneumonia for several reasons. This includes the use of feeding tubes, poor dental hygiene, the risk of getting the flu, and contact with caregivers that may unknowingly spread a disease.

These all make nursing homes an environment with good conditions for pneumonia to thrive. Complicating matters is the fact that pneumonia is so dangerous for older citizens, making it a major threat.

Other respiratory tract infections are also possible. This usually shows up as symptoms like a cold, flu, or bronchitis. All of these are more dangerous to older nursing home residents for the same reason why pneumonia is a concern; a weaker immune system.

Gastrointestinal Tract Infections

Elderly citizens might also contract a gastrointestinal tract infection.

More specifically, the biggest problem here is gastroenteritis. Gastrointestinal tract infections are problematic because they include diarrhea.

For most people, diarrhea is not a major problem, but it’s very concerning for elderly citizens. This is because it drastically increases the risk of dehydration. Nursing home residents likely don’t have the greatest access to hydration and water and it might be hard for them to intake.

Because of this, gastrointestinal tract infections can be lethal for the elderly. These diseases are often contagious and can be spread through food or water. With other people handling a nursing home resident’s food, this increases their risk of contracting a disease.

Urinary Tract Infections

Lastly, nursing home residents are at risk for urinary tract infections.

This is another highly common diagnosis for nursing home residents. There are two primary reasons for this; urinary tract issues and catheter use.

Problems with the urinary tract become common as you age. It can become difficult to fully expel your bladder or to urinate at all. If urine spends too much time in the bladder, then this creates an environment ripe for bacteria and an infection.

The other part of this is using a catheter. Many male nursing home residents need a catheter to resolve their inability to urinate. While this does help evacuation of the bladder, it also makes a urinary tract infection more likely.

Catheters and a less functional urinary tract make the development of bacteria and infection much easier. The addition of an unclean living environment only expedites this process.

Closing Thoughts

If you have an elder family member living in a nursing home, then you want to ensure that they have the lowest chance of getting an infectious disease. Nursing homes aren’t always well-maintained and this can help the spread of dangerous diseases among residents.

Furthermore, elderly citizens are at a higher risk of getting sick because their immune systems don’t work as well as they once did. In particular, a few infections to watch for include skin ailments, pneumonia, gastrointestinal tract infections, and urinary tract infections.

While nursing homes aren’t always the cleanest environment, not all establishments are the same and this means that some offer great care.

To minimize the risk of your older family member getting sick, make sure you put them in a facility that will give them all the care that they need.

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