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What are the signs of sepsis in the elderly?

Photo Credit: Peshkova/iStock Photo

What the signs of sepsis in an elderly person are will depend upon how far the condition has progressed. In its early stages, the symptoms include high or low body temperature, rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, chills, and shivering. In more serious cases that are classified as severe sepsis or septic shock, the symptoms can include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Mottled skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Faintness and dizziness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Diarrhea
  • Breathlessness
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased urine production
  • Loss of consciousness

In other words, this is a condition that you want to avoid at all costs. In seniors, sepsis can be deadly. The mortality rate for severe sepsis and septic shock in the elderly is 50% to 60%.

How Sepsis Is Caused

Sepsis is caused by an individual’s body’s response to an infection, which can lead to your organs shutting down. The most common cause of sepsis is bacterial infections. However, the condition can also be caused by viral or fungal infections. The risk factors for sepsis in the elderly include:

  • Being immunocompromised
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract, bladder, or kidney infection
  • Bloodstream infection
  • Diabetes
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Wounds or burn injuries
  • Rely on catheters, breathing tubes, or other invasive devices

Some cases of sepsis may not be preventable. Others are caused by a medical professional’s or nursing home staff member’s mistake. If you believe your elderly loved one’s sepsis was caused by negligence, it may be time to involve an attorney.

How Sepsis Is Treated

Sepsis is typically treated by treating the source of the infection. The following are some of the more common treatments an elderly patient with sepsis may receive.


The first thing doctors will do when they treat a patient with sepsis is to administer antibiotics. Typically, you will begin antibiotic treatment within an hour of being admitted to the hospital in an attempt to prevent it from developing into septic shock.

Maintaining Blood Flow to the Organs

A medical team may give the patient intravenous fluids and oxygen to try to keep the blood flowing to their organs. Patients may also require kidney dialysis or need to be placed on a breathing machine.


Depending on the source fo the infection, a patient may undergo surgery to treat sepsis. This could include the surgical removal of any infected tissue or draining an abscess that has filled with pus.

How to Prevent Sepsis in the Elderly

As terrifying as the thought of you or your elderly loved one developing sepsis is, there are steps you can take to prevent it. These mostly involve preventative measures that can help you to not develop infections in the first place.

Treat Any Infections Promptly

Even if you don’t think your urinary tract infection is serious, be sure to get it treated right away. One-quarter of all cases of sepsis started off with a UTI. Any infection can become severe quickly. Also, be vigilant about watching for signs of a UTI when a senior is using a catheter.

Update Your Vaccinations

Did you know vaccinations are not good for life? According to the Centers for Disease Control, 35% of sepsis cases began as pneumonia, which can be prevented by vaccinations. Annual flu shots can also prevent you from developing a sepsis infection.

Clean Wounds Properly

Approximately 10% of all sepsis cases happen as a result of a skin infection. Something as small as a mosquito bite can lead to developing this condition if it’s not cleaned properly. Make sure any wound you get, no matter how small, is cleaned thoroughly, especially if you’re diabetic.

Even though a little over half of all elderly patients with sepsis die, remember, nearly half will survive the infection. The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to sepsis. The best way to prevent sepsis is to do whatever you can to prevent developing it in the first place.

augusta free press
augusta free press