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Sepsis in Elderly | Causes and Symptoms

When an elderly person becomes septic, it can be catastrophic to their health and even result in death. Nursing homes that care for this vulnerable population are expected to do everything possible to prevent the risk of sepsis in elderly patients.

In this article, we will discuss the common causes and symptoms of sepsis as well as the three stages of sepsis. We’ll also discuss when sepsis in elderly patients may be a sign of nursing home abuse and neglect.

In This Article:

Sepsis in Elderly, image of elderly woman laying in hospital bed, Disparti Law GroupCauses of Sepsis in Elderly

Sepsis in the elderly often stems from a combination of factors unique to this demographic. Age-related physiological changes such as weakened immune responses and chronic medical conditions make older adults more vulnerable to microbial invasions causing infection. These infections can rapidly progress to sepsis in elderly patients if left unchecked.

Hospital stays, invasive procedures, and long-term care facility placements such as nursing homes expose elderly individuals to a higher likelihood of contracting infections, including antibiotic-resistant strains. Common illnesses that may cause infections in a nursing home include:

  • MRSA
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus
  • C. Difficile
  • Significant infections of wounds
  • Endocarditis
  • Influenza
  • Colds
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Gastroenteritis

Moreover, the prevalence of comorbidities such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory illnesses among the elderly exacerbates the risk of developing severe infections.

Symptoms of Sepsis in Elderly

Symptoms of sepsis in the elderly may be difficult to spot as they may look like health complications that are normal due to age. When several of these symptoms occur at once, there may be cause for concern. Sepsis symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Cold extremities
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain
  • High fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Changes in mental status

If you notice that your loved one has several of these symptoms, especially after contracting any type of infection, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If they are in a nursing home, alert the staff and ensure they will get the care they need before it’s too late.

Stages of Sepsis in Elderly

The sooner a sepsis diagnosis is made, the better chance the patient has to survive. Once the early stages of sepsis begin, the decline to full-blown septic shock can be rapid, especially for older patients.

Stage 1: Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS)

Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS) serves as a crucial diagnostic framework for identifying potentially severe conditions like sepsis. Its symptoms encompass a spectrum of physiological responses that may indicate underlying systemic inflammation. These symptoms include:

  • variations in body temperature (hyperthermia/hypothermia)
  • elevated heart rate (tachycardia)
  • accelerated respiratory rate (tachypnea)
  • deviations in white blood cell count

When these symptoms are accompanied by an infection, then the transition to sepsis occurs. Recognizing these subtle yet critical distinctions is paramount for timely intervention and effective management of patients presenting with systemic inflammatory conditions.

Stage 2: Severe Sepsis

Stage two, severe sepsis, is marked by the onset of acute organ dysfunction. It can also be diagnosed when sepsis is present as well as low blood pressure (hypotension) or decreased blood flow to organs (hypoperfusion).

Signs of organ dysfunction include the same signs as SIRS as well as other symptoms such as abdominal pain, decreased urine output, and abrupt alterations in mental status.

Notably, urine output serves as a pivotal parameter in the SSC Sepsis 6 bundle, measured promptly after sepsis diagnosis to monitor disease progression. Recognizing and promptly addressing severe sepsis is imperative, as the risk of death by septic shock escalates substantially.

Stage 3: Septic Shock

Septic shock is the most severe stage of sepsis. For anyone, not just the elderly, it poses an immediate threat to life and demands urgent medical intervention. Elevated lactate levels make it difficult for the body to maintain adequate oxygen delivery to vital organs.

With mortality rates ranging from 30% to 50%, septic shock represents a formidable challenge in critical care medicine, necessitating rapid and aggressive treatment strategies to restore hemodynamic stability and mitigate the risk of irreversible organ damage.

Preventing Sepsis in Nursing Homes

To prevent sepsis in a nursing home, proactive measures are essential. Staff and caregivers should closely monitor residents for signs of infection or illness and ensure they receive prompt and appropriate treatment.

Adhering to strict infection control protocols, isolating residents with contagious infections, and promoting good hand hygiene practices among residents can help minimize the risk of infections spreading within the facility.

Additionally, prompt treatment of open wounds or injuries is crucial in preventing infection and subsequent sepsis development. When signs of sepsis emerge, swift action is imperative, including immediate transfer to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment, potentially mitigating the severity of the condition and improving the resident’s outcome.

When Is Sepsis a Sign of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

Sepsis in a nursing home can be indicative of neglect or abuse when it is the outcome of inadequate care or treatment of residents. When wounds, bedsores, urinary tract infections (UTIs), injuries, or other illnesses are not properly addressed, they can escalate into sepsis.

Failure to maintain cleanliness standards, administer appropriate medications, or promptly treat health conditions can also contribute to the development of sepsis, underscoring a lack of proper care and attention to residents’ needs.

Nursing home staff members have a duty to recognize and address signs of illness and infection. When they neglect this responsibility, it may warrant legal action against the nursing home. If your loved one recently became septic and you believe it may be due to their nursing home’s negligence, you should consider contacting an attorney as soon as possible.

A nursing home abuse lawyer will investigate the nursing home and uncover any history of negligence they may have. You or your loved one may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, or wrongful death.

For a FREE consult, contact the personal injury lawyers at Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers today! Call (312) 600-6000 and find out why thousands say… Larry wins!

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