Revealing the Common Illnesses and Unexpected Sources of Infection in Long-Term Care Facilities

Illnesses and infections are common in a long-term care facility setting. A high-quality facility will proactively strive to reduce and prevent these infections, ensuring superior care and an enhanced quality of life for its residents.

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Revealing the Common Illnesses and Unexpected Sources of Infection in Long-Term Care Facilities
7 Min Read December 30th, 2023

With an aging population, the topic of long-term care is increasingly prominent in the news. While home care offers some control over potential illnesses due to limited exposure to other people, facilities with larger staff and resident populations pose a higher risk of spreading infections. We saw this firsthand when the COVID-19 virus crisis hit. 

Long-term care facilities (assisted living, memory care, and nursing homes), often perceived as safe havens for older adults, can harbor unexpected sources of illnesses and, unfortunately, become breeding grounds for spreading infections. From widespread flu outbreaks to the more insidious urinary tract infections (UTIs), these communal environments are susceptible to health challenges. 

Common illnesses are found in such facilities. Understanding these risks is crucial in safeguarding the health and well-being of our loved ones in these care settings.

Serious Infections Spread

Recent data paints a stark picture. In the United States alone, estimates suggest between 1 and 3 million serious infections occur annually in long-term care facilities. These illnesses affect individual residents and can trigger outbreaks, posing a broader threat to the vulnerable population within these closed communities.

Unveiling the Reasons Behind the Rise:

Several factors contribute to the increased vulnerability of residents in long-term care facilities:

  • Weakened immune systems: Age-related decline makes seniors more susceptible to infections. Existing chronic conditions and frequent antibiotic use further compromise their defenses.
  • Close contact: Shared living spaces, dining areas, and recreational facilities offer ample opportunities for germs to jump from one person to another. Staff interactions, although essential, also contribute to the transmission potential.
  • Hygiene challenges: Maintaining proper hand hygiene can be difficult for some residents, particularly those with cognitive or physical limitations. Additionally, ensuring thorough environmental sanitation requires constant vigilance.

10 Common Illnesses and Their Hidden Hazards in LTC Facilities

While senior care facilities offer support and comfort, they can also present unique health challenges. Understanding the most common illnesses and their unexpected sources empowers us to protect our loved ones within these close-knit communities.

1. Influenza (Flu): The annual flu threat looms large, with residents susceptible despite vaccinations. Newcomers and visitors can unwittingly introduce the virus, emphasizing the importance of vigilant screening and vaccination protocols. This is a big reason why a local HVAC marketing agency will push the importance of HEPA filters. Adequate ventilation with HEPA filters can further reduce airborne transmission.

2. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Catheter use and dehydration contribute significantly to UTIs, often causing discomfort and complications. Hormone imbalances and hygiene practices also play a role. Facilities must prioritize resident diets, staff training on catheter care, and thorough handwashing protocols.

3. Pneumonia: Weakened immune systems, poor nutrition, and age-related factors make seniors vulnerable to pneumonia. Airborne viruses like COVID-19, flu, and RSV can trigger it. Proper ventilation, mask-wearing, and good nutrition can help prevent and manage this serious illness.

4. Skin Infections: From shingles and cellulitis to wound infections and bedsores, skin infections pose a constant threat. Lack of hygiene, inadequate nutrition, and missed vaccinations increase the risk. Staff vigilance in maintaining cleanliness, providing nutritious meals, and ensuring up-to-date vaccinations is crucial.

5. Gastrointestinal Infections: Improper food handling in the facility's kitchen can be the culprit behind these disruptive infections. Strict handwashing protocols, careful preparation practices, and thorough sanitation are essential to safeguard residents from these often dangerous illnesses.

6. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): This common childhood virus can be serious for seniors, with close quarters in facilities facilitating its spread. The symptoms might resemble a common cold but can escalate quickly in severity among seniors with poor lungs. Regular disinfection of surfaces, hand hygiene practices, and mask-wearing among staff and residents are key preventive measures.

7. COVID-19: COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and 19% of people who survived COVID report having long COVID. Continued vigilance remains crucial, with staff, visitors, and maintenance workers potential carriers. Vaccination, mask-wearing, and proper ventilation remain essential tools in the fight against this ongoing pandemic.

8. Norovirus: Contaminated surfaces and food, not just person-to-person contact, are major culprits in norovirus outbreaks. Regular disinfection of communal dining areas and strict adherence to food safety guidelines are critical in preventing this highly contagious virus.

9. Tuberculosis (TB): Though less common, TB can silently lurk in senior care facilities. Regular screening of residents and staff, good air circulation, and mask-wearing are vital in protecting against this airborne bacterial disease.

10. General Diarrhea and Dehydration: Dehydration, especially in combination with diet changes and medication side effects, can lead to frequent diarrhea, a significant risk for older adults. Personalized care plans, ensuring proper hydration, and monitoring for medication reactions are essential in mitigating this common issue.

By understanding the potential threats lurking within senior care facilities, you can advocate for better hygiene practices, proper sanitation, and vigilant infection control measures. This proactive approach paves the way for safer environments, allowing our loved ones to enjoy their golden years with greater peace of mind and enhanced health.

Safeguarding Loved Ones in Long-Term Care: Vigilance Against Infection

Choosing the right long-term care facility for a loved one is a critical decision, with quality institutions offering quality care and enhancing the life quality of residents while providing peace of mind to families. Yet, these communal living environments come with their own challenges, notably a heightened risk of infections. 

For family members, staying vigilant and informed is essential to mitigate these risks and safeguard the well-being of their loved ones in these facilities.

If you are actively looking for a long-term care facility for a loved one now, search your area using the LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory. It is an excellent resource where you can search over 80,000 care providers nationwide for all types of long-term care services, no matter where your loved one lives - Long-Term Care Services Directory | Find Care Near You.

When you have shortlisted potential facilities, arrange a site visit. If your loved one is already residing in a facility, use this opportunity to assess key areas to ensure the facility is actively working to minimize and prevent infections.

Hygiene and Sanitation:

  • Observe cleanliness: Look for signs of cleanliness in common areas, resident rooms, and restrooms. Are surfaces regularly disinfected? Are there adequate handwashing facilities and supplies readily available?
  • Staff practices: Pay attention to how staff members handle food, clean surfaces, and interact with residents. Do they consistently practice proper hand hygiene and follow infection control protocols?
  • Resident hygiene: Check if residents can access clean clothes, linen changes, and bathing assistance if needed. Are staff trained to handle residents with compromised hygiene needs, such as those with catheters or wounds?

Infection Prevention Measures:

  • Vaccination policies: Inquire about the facility's vaccination policies for residents and staff, particularly for influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Up-to-date vaccinations are crucial in preventing outbreaks.
  • Infection control protocols: Ask about the facility's existing infection control procedures for various illnesses. Do they have a plan for identifying, isolating, and managing outbreaks?
  • Communication and transparency: Ensure the facility maintains open communication with families regarding any suspected or confirmed infections among residents or staff. This allows for early intervention and preventive measures.

Personal Vigilance:

  • Frequent visits: Regular visits allow you to personally observe the facility's environment, resident care, and potential signs of illness in your loved one.
  • Open communication with your loved one and staff: Encourage your loved one to voice any concerns about hygiene, care practices, or their own health. Maintain open communication with the facility staff about your observations and questions.
  • Advocate for your loved one: Don't hesitate to raise concerns about hygiene practices, infection control measures, or any suspected infections with the facility administration. Advocate for your loved one's health and well-being.

Remember, Knowledge is Power 

By actively observing, inquiring, and advocating, you can play a crucial role in minimizing the risk of infections for your loved one in a long-term care facility. Remember, proactive vigilance paired with open communication fosters a safe and healthy environment for your loved one to thrive in.

Additional Tips:

  • Encourage frequent handwashing for your loved one.
  • Provide them with personal hygiene supplies like hand sanitizer and moisturizers.
  • Monitor for signs of illness like fever, cough, diarrhea, or changes in behavior.
  • Encourage vaccinations not on the standard facility schedule if recommended by their doctor.
  • Stay informed about current infectious disease outbreaks in your area.

By implementing these additional steps, you can further safeguard your loved one's health and well-being in their long-term care setting.

LTC Insurance Opens the Door for Quality Care

If your loved one has Long-Term Care Insurance, it will open the door to the best quality care options, be it top long-term care facilities or in-home care choices. However, you can only obtain LTC Insurance coverage when you are in reasonably good health. Most people get coverage in their 40s or 50s as part of a comprehensive retirement plan. However, those in their 60s and beyond can find affordable options if they enjoy good health.

But what about you? Are you prepared for the consequences of aging?

As you navigate retirement planning, long-term care is crucial, which should be addressed well before you need care. 

Maintaining quality of life in your later years can translate to in-home assistance, long-term care facilities, or a blend of both. But let's face it: quality care is costly. This is where Long-Term Care Insurance acts as a guardian angel for your future well-being and financial security.

Imagine the freedom to choose the exact care you need without financial strain or the emotional headaches that normally impact your loved ones. LTC Insurance empowers you to do just that.  

If you are dealing with an older parent or another family member in long-term care, you see firsthand how difficult it can be on the family and on finances. When you have LTC Insurance, you will not only protect your hard-earned savings, but you will also ensure quality care without placing a burden on those you love.

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

To navigate the many options in Long-Term Care Insurance, it's advisable to consult with a qualified specialist. These professionals can guide you through the various policies, helping you find one that aligns with your age, health, and financial situation. While most people secure this coverage in their 40s or 50s, affordable options are available in your 60s and beyond, depending on your health and other factors.

An experienced, independent LTC Insurance specialist will help match you with the right insurance company, assist with policy design, and provide accurate quotes from all the top-rated insurance companies so you can decide. 

Long-Term Care Insurance is a proactive step in safeguarding your family's well-being and financial security. As you plan for the years ahead, consider how an LTC policy can be vital to your long-term care strategy.

Finding Quality Caregivers

Resources like the LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory offer invaluable assistance for those seeking caregivers for older family members. The directory is a free, comprehensive national database with a wide range of long-term care services, simplifying finding qualified caregivers or appropriate care facilities. You can search for providers where you or your loved one lives and read about their qualifications and options. 

For those with an LTC policy, LTC NEWS can help process claims from any Long-Term Care Insurance policy. LTC NEWS, in partnership with Amada Senior Care, a nationally recognized in-home health care agency, ensures that you and your loved ones receive the quality care you deserve. This service comes at no cost or obligation - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim.

These four LTC NEWS guides will assist you in trying to find appropriate long-term services for a loved one:

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Benefits of Sponsored Content on LTC NEWS 

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In summary, sponsored content on LTC NEWS is a powerful marketing tool that can help you boost website traffic, SEO, brand recognition, and audience engagement. Traditional advertising is also available to keep you in front of potential customers. 

Learn more about how LTC NEWS can help market your business, drive traffic, and improve SEO - Advertise With Us | LTC News.

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LTC NEWS is a leading website for news and information about aging, caregiving, health, lifestyle, long-term care, and retirement planning. We are always looking for new stories to share with our readers. 

If your group, organization, business, or political committee has news to share, we encourage you to submit a press release to us.

 

You can submit your press release - newsroom@ltcnews.com 

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