Tuberculosis and Seniors—What Every Caregiver Should Know
If you are acting as a senior caregiver to an elderly loved one, there are a number of health risks that you should be on the lookout for. One of the many health issues that all seniors should be aware of is Tuberculosis, or TB. However, many seniors surprisingly know very little about this disease. Here’s information that every senior and their caregiver should know about TB.
What is Tuberculosis?
If you aren’t familiar with Tuberculosis, this common condition is caused by bacteria that most often impacts the lungs. There are actually many different types of tuberculosis, but most are typically broken down into “active” or “latent” TB. It is estimated that approximately 11 million people in America actually have some form of TB but aren’t even aware of it, meaning they have “latent” TB that doesn’t show any symptoms.
TB is an airborne disease that can be spread from person to person and it primarily impacts the lungs, although it can also go to the kidneys, brain, and spine. According to the World Health Organization, TB is a “Global Emergency.”
However, that doesn’t mean that the infection can’t become active and if it does, it can be fatal. Only about 1 in 10 individuals with the bacteria will actually have it become active, but it is still a risk disease to deal with.
Who is at Risk for Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis can actually impact a wide range of people, but it is most common in seniors. There are also other risk facts as well including those who are undergoing arthritis treatments and cancer treatments. These medications can actually suppress the immune system and taking these drugs can actually set the stage for future TB issues.
Seniors who have diabetes are also at a large risk for TB, so much so that around 1/3 of all TB cases are in individuals who already have diabetes. The more you can do to keep your immune system up and to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, the better.
What are the Signs of Tuberculosis?
If you are looking after a senior adult, you need to be aware of the signs of TB. These are symptoms of active TB, and this type of infection can be passed from person to person. When you notice these signs and signals, you will want o try to get your senior loved one help as soon as possible. These signs include:
- Feeling sick or weak
- Weight loss
- Excessive coughing
- Excessive sneezing
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood (this is a serious sign of infection)
- Fevers about 101 degrees
The more you are aware of what the signs of TB are, the quicker you can get your loved one help.
How is TB Treated?
If your loved one does have TB, there are several prescribed medications that can help treat the issue. Typically, depending on the severity of the infection, seniors will need to undergo treatment anywhere from 6-12 months. However, even after treatment, seniors may still have TB germs inside their bodies and could develop an active infection again in the future.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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