Delirium, depression, and dementia are known as the three D’s of geriatrics, according to Dr. Adelman. Delirium — or an acute confusional state — can indicate that an infection like pneumonia is brewing.
“An older person is just as likely to experience delirium, loss of appetite, dizziness, falls, or lethargy when they get pneumonia as some of the physical symptoms,” says Dr. Adelman.
“Older people with pneumonia (and other infections) are more susceptible to developing an acute confusional state, as well as rapid heartbeat and lethargy — all of which might not bring pneumonia to mind.”
But these symptoms, the more common ones like coughing or difficulty breathing, along with sweating, headache, bringing up sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus), or clammy skin merit a doctor’s visit.
“The minute an older person who is normally functional has a precipitous decline, geriatricians make a comprehensive assessment of the patient with a careful history and physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, and often a chest X-ray to make sure something else isn’t going on,” says Dr. Adelman. “As a geriatrician, you always want to be on the lookout to see if an infection is at the root of the problem.”