World Pneumonia Day is held each year on November 12 to raise awareness of pneumonia, promote prevention and treatment, and generate action to fight the illness. Pneumonia is a leading cause of death and hospitalization in seniors and in people with long-term chronic diseases, according to the Canadian Lung Association. In fact, more people die from pneumonia each year than from car accidents, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to lower your risk of getting pneumonia. Knowing why older adults are more susceptible to pneumonia can help you take appropriate steps to prevent the illness.
Older adults often have more difficulty clearing bacterial secretions from their lungs and avoiding infection, according to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Our immune systems weaken as we age and some seniors may have a harder time fighting off infections. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, COPD or dementia that put them at higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Tips to lower your risk
1. Vaccinate against pneumonia. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that all people 65 and over get a pneumococcal vaccine. There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccines for adults available in Canada. One protects against 23 strains of pneumococcus bacteria and the other protects against 13 strains, says the NACI. Talk to your doctor about whether to get one or both vaccines.
2. Get your annual flu shot. It’s the best way to protect against the flu and is especially important for older adults, who are at higher risk for flu complications, which include pneumonia, says the CDC.
3. Wash your hands often. This helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that may cause pneumonia.
4. Keep your immune system strong. Get enough sleep, be physically active each day and eat healthy, nutritious meals, says Medisys.
5. Stay away from people with infectious illnesses. Keep your distance from people who have a cold, the flu, measles, or chickenpox because your pneumonia risk is higher after having one of these illnesses, advises HealthLinkBC.
6. Practice good oral hygiene. New research in Infectious Diseases Society of America shows that regular dental visits lower your risk of pneumonia. Brushing, flossing and seeing a dentist regularly helps reduce bad bacteria, including those that cause pneumonia.