Sepsis can strike anyone at any time, but some segments of the population are more at risk than others. People over 65, particularly those with health issues, are 13 times more likely to develop sepsis; they make up 65% of sepsis cases in hospitals. Mortality rates are also higher in older patients–sepsis is the tenth leading cause of death for those aged 65 and over–and increase with advanced age. Research shows that elderly patients are much more likely to suffer lasting consequences from sepsis. In addition to amputation and organ failure, which are common outcomes for any sepsis survivor, older patients can suffer major cognitive and physical limitations due to the condition.
- Confusion and tiredness is a major sign of sepsis for older people
- Fever and chills
- Rapid breathing
- Mottled or dusky skin
- Elevated heart rate
- Pain and physical discomfort
Older people are more likely to develop sepsis due to:
- Aging immune systems and frailer bodies
- Extended hospital stays and surgeries
- Insertion of catheters, feed tubes and IV’s which increase the likelihood of infection
- Chronic diseases such as diabetes, lung and kidney disease, stroke, heart attack and hypertension have also been shown to significantly increase the patient’s risk of developing sepsis.
The greatest risk factor is infection, to which older people are more susceptible. Those with increased risk of infection include:
- People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes
- Those with weakened immune systems
- Those who receive care in hospitals
As diagnosing sepsis can be difficult, doctors often order a battery of tests to try to determine evidence of infection, clotting problems, abnormal liver or kidney function, impaired oxygen availability and/or electrolyte imbalances.
Several medications are used in treating sepsis, including antibiotics to treat the infection, vasopressors which help to increase blood pressure and IV fluids. Early, aggressive treatment boosts the chances of surviving sepsis. Elderly people with severe sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in a hospital intensive care unit.
The most important factor in preventing sepsis in the elderly is to prevent infections and to treat them immediately when they do occur. Infections can also be reduced by proper care of all wounds. Regular vaccinations act as a prevention for illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia, which are both risk factors for sepsis.