What Is Sepsis?

September 1, 2017
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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September is Sepsis Awareness Month. As a family caregiver, you may have heard the term “sepsis” when discussing your parent’s home health care with their doctor or when preparing for a procedure that carries with it the risk of infection.

Understanding what this term means and how it can impact your parent’s life is an important part of helping to keep them safe and healthy throughout their later years.

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis, also called septicemia, is a potentially devastating condition resulting in response to an infection in the body that can lead to lingering complications and even death.

Sometimes inaccurately referred to as “blood poisoning,” sepsis is actually an inflammatory reaction of the body to the chemical immune responses to infection.

Sepsis is not an isolated condition, but a complication of an infection.

What Causes Sepsis?

An infection in any part of the body can cause sepsis. This does not have to be a severe infection.

When an infection occurs within the body, the body sends out an immune response that triggers reactions intended to fight off the infection and prevent further health problems.

In some situations, however, these immune chemicals cause extensive and dangerous inflammatory responses throughout the rest of the body. This can then lead to other complicated reactions that may damage the organs, impact the brain, and even potentially lead to death.

The greatest risk occurs if the person goes into what is known as septic shock. When this happens, the blood pressure drops extremely low and the person could die. Approximately 6% of all deaths throughout the United States are related to sepsis.

Risk Factors for Sepsis

Sepsis can occur in anyone who has an infection.

Older adults, however, are more likely to develop sepsis and also suffer dangerous consequences as a result.

Older adults tend to have far less effective immune systems than younger adults. This means they are less able to fight off infections and their bodies are less capable of handling the stresses of fighting the infection when it does occur.

Sepsis Treatment

Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help if your aging parent does develop sepsis.

Many people automatically think of antibiotics when they consider the treatment of infections. When caught early, a doctor may be able to treat the condition using high doses of antibiotics along with continuous intravenous fluids to support improved bodily function and infection fighting.

This form of aggressive treatment can greatly improve the chances of survival.

If your loved ones’ doctor prescribes these medications, use these tips to help ensure they get the most benefit from their infection treatment:

Understand instructions. Make sure they read the instructions for proper use carefully and ask their doctor any questions they might have if they do not understand how or when they should take their medication.

Follow directions. Remind your parent of details regarding how they are meant to take these prescriptions, such as if they should take it with food, at a certain time of day, or avoid another type of medication or food along with it.

Stay on schedule. Remind your parent to take their prescriptions on the proper schedule. This compliance is critical to ensuring that the level of medication remains consistent in their body so the medication continues to fight the infection in the best way possible.

Take proper dosage. Ensure your parent takes all of their prescribed medication unless they specifically discuss stopping with their doctor and get approval.

Watch for side effects. Keep track of any side effects your parent experiences and review them with your parent’s doctor if they become excessive or troublesome.

Preventing Sepsis

As a family caregiver, it is important to not only understand the risk of sepsis but take meaningful steps to help prevent it. This can guard them against complications that can linger throughout their life or even cut their life short.

Protecting your parent from infection is the most important part of protecting them from sepsis. Talk to their doctor and develop an aggressive germ control plan you can keep in place throughout the year, especially during seasons when illness and infection are most prevalent, such as the fall and winter.

While preventing these infections is preferable, this might not always be possible. If your parent does experience an infection, the treatment and management of that infection is key to minimizing the risk your senior will develop sepsis.

Use these tips to help reduce the chances your senior will experience an infection:

Wash hands regularly. Regular, thorough handwashing is one of the most important things you can do to fight germs and reduce the risk of infection. Make sure both you and your aging parent wash your hands throughout the day, including before and after eating, after using the restroom, after touching your mouth, nose, or face, after touching trash or waste, and before and after dealing with bodily fluids or blood. If you cannot wash your hands properly, such as when there is no sink available, use waterless hand sanitizing gel.

Clean to combat germs. Focus your cleaning efforts on eliminating the dangerous germs in your parent’s home. This does not necessarily mean using harsh chemicals, which can irritate your senior. Vinegar and baking soda and essential oils, including tea tree oil, are highly effective natural cleaners.

Protect their skin. Hangnails, small cuts or tears in the skin, pressure sores, and blisters can all make your parent vulnerable to potential infection. Take steps to protect their skin by ensuring it is cleaned gently and that your parent uses high quality moisturizer to keep their skin soft and comfortable. If they are limited in their mobility, make sure that you or a home health care provider help them to shift positions regularly to reduce the risk of pressure sores.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care Services

If you have found that your parent’s needs have increased to the point that you no longer feel as though you can handle them properly, or your own limitations or schedule has changed so that you do not feel you are capable of offering the level of care your parent needs and deserves, now may be the ideal time for you to consider starting home health care for them.

Starting senior home care services for your aging loved one can be one of the best decisions you can make as a family caregiver. Having a senior home care services provider in the home with your parent is a fantastic way to encourage them to make healthier choices, live a stronger, more beneficial lifestyle, and enjoy a higher quality of life as they age in place.

While having a senior care provider will not help your parent to avoid all medical issues and illnesses, this type of care provider can help you to feel greater peace of mind. Knowing your parent has someone who is caring for them and assisting them when you are not able to be in the home with them can give you confidence that if something does go wrong, your parent will have the help they need to respond to the situation properly and ensure you are informed as quickly as possible.

A home health care provider can fill any care gaps that might exist in your routine with your senior so they can get everything they need to stay happy, healthy, comfortable, and safe as they age in place.

This is especially reassuring if you are a distance caregiver, helping you to know that even if you are not able to be there with your parent, they are still getting their individual needs and challenges met on a daily basis.

The highly personalized nature of this care means the home health care provider can help your senior pursue a lifestyle that is as active, engaged, independent, and fulfilling as possible throughout their later years.

Sepsis Alliance