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Understanding, Recognizing and Treating Hypoxia in the Elderly

recognizing hypoxia in the elderlyIf you’ve heard people mention hypoxia but aren’t clear on what it happens to be, here’s a simple hypoxia definition that will help. Hypoxia is a health issue that involves the ability of the body to receive oxygen efficiently. Specifically, the body is unable to receive what’s considered a healthy amount of oxygen.

There are a number of medical conditions that can trigger difficulty in receiving enough oxygen. Sleep apnea is a common example. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is another possibility. While people of all ages can develop hypoxia, the impact on an elderly person can be particularly significant.

As a person with an elderly parent or other loved one, it makes sense that you want what’s best for them. One of the things you can do is be aware of what hypoxia happens to be, the types of health issues that can lead to this condition, and recognize the more common signs that this type of problem is developing. You should also know what can be done in terms of seeking emergency medical care as well as options for long-term treatment. Here’s some information that will help you get started.

Identifying the Four Types of Hypoxia

Many people are surprised to learn there are different types of hypoxia. Before delving into possible signs and symptoms that indicate hypoxia is present, it pays to know a little about each type. Comparing and contrasting the four types will position you to be more aware of how hypoxia in the elderly can manifest and what can be done in the way of medical treatment.

Hypemic Hypoxia: This condition can occur because of inadequate amounts of oxygen in the bloodstream. With a lack of oxygen, it’s not possible for the blood to deliver a sufficient amount to the body’s tissues. The lack of oxygen delivery can pave the way for many health issues that may be difficult to spot at first but become increasingly serious.

Anemic Hypoxia: With this condition, low hemoglobin levels impede the ability of the blood to make use of oxygen as it’s breathed in. This also results in an inadequate amount of oxygen being distributed to different areas of the body. In some cases, treating the underlying cause of the anemia itself can help correct this problem.

Stagnant Hypoxia: Sometimes known as circulatory hypoxia, this type of issue develops when something interferes with the efficient flow of blood throughout the body. It’s not that there’s a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream; it’s that the blood isn’t getting everywhere it needs to go.

Histotoxic Hypoxia: With this form of hypoxia, there’s no problem taking in enough oxygen or getting it into the bloodstream. There’s also not a problem carrying the oxygen to the body’s tissues. Instead, there’s a disconnect at the point where the blood delivers the oxygen. Something prevents the tissues from being able to absorb and efficiently use the oxygen that’s supplied.

Identifying what form or type of hypoxia is present requires a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. What you can do is learn the signs that hypoxia is present and ensure your loved one receives medical treatment as quickly as possible.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia

In learning how to recognize hypoxia symptoms in the elderly, it’s important to note that the signs may be somewhat subtle at first. They may appear to be minor irritants. Both you and your loved one may consider them to be temporary. Since all the symptoms can be associated with other medical issues, it pays to monitor them and note if they begin to worsen. If that happens, it’s time to seek medical attention.

What is the first sign of hypoxia?

For many people, shortness of breath will be the first sign that something is now as it should be. It can begin with a slight sense of tightness in the chest, almost as if a chest cold is starting to develop. Slowly, that tightness will escalate into a state where breathing in deeply is difficult and possibly painful.      

Keep in mind that while shortness of breath is among the most common, there are likely to be other symptoms that manifest over time. Being aware of them even as you monitor the degree of difficulty breathing is important. Be on the lookout for the following:

Understanding What’s Meant by a Normal Oxygen Level

As it relates to the elderly, what is considered a normal oxygen level? Anywhere between 80 and 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) would be considered healthy. Problems begin to develop at the lower end of that scale and will escalate if the level falls below 80.

Accelerated or labored breathing is more likely to happen with lower oxygen levels. That’s because the body is attempting to compensate for whatever is taking place and increase the amount of oxygen that’s carried to the body’s tissues and ultimately utilized.

While this may lead to an elevated heart rate at first, advanced hypoxia can have the opposite effect. The heart begins to beat slower and the breathing becomes more shallow. If the heart rate dips below 60 in an elderly person, it’s time to seek medical attention.

More Signs That It’s Time to Seek Medical Attention

According to information found on the Mayo Clinic website, seek help at once if the following should occur:

Living with Shortness of Breath

What can be done to cope with shortness of breath? There are several things that medical professionals are likely to recommend. Here are some lifestyle changes that may aid in eliminating complications and easing symptoms. Employing as many of them as apply will make a difference:

What Happens When Your Oxygen Level Slips Below 80?

Breathing problems in seniors indicate a drop in oxygen levels. If those levels should slip below 80, several things can happen. The person may feel dizzy or develop a headache. The heart may begin to race, along with an increase in breathing rapidity. As it becomes more difficult to breathe, there may be some chest discomfort.

Oxygen levels dropping in the elderly may be serious enough to cause fainting. With any of these events, seek medical help at once.

Facts You Should Know About Living With Chronic Hypoxia

Hypoxia is not always permanent; it may be alleviated by treating an underlying condition. At other times, it may be chronic. What would you do when the latter applies?

Be aware that changes in temperament are common. Your loved one may feel lethargic much of the time. Irritability is highly likely, as is a strong sense of feeling tire. It’s not unusual for people with chronic hypoxia to experience an increase in red blood cells.

Left untreated, chronic hypoxia can lead to what’s known as clubbing, a condition in which the fingertips enlarge and may be discolored. High blood pressure is also possible. Pulmonary edema may also develop. All these conditions require medical attention.

Feeling Better With Oxygen Therapy

What are some ways for the elderly to increase lower oxygen levels? Along with lifestyle changes that help increase comfort, oxygen therapy is one of the most effective solutions for chronic hypoxia. According to a study conducted by Green Lane Hospital, the 68 male patients who participated saw improvement in their quality of life after receiving the therapy. This included a decrease in anxiety, a more balanced mood, improved emotional function, and a lessening of fatigue.

The use of supplemental oxygen does make it easier to breathe. It also alleviates undue stress on the heart and makes it easier to beat normally. There are multiple options for oxygen, including the use of compressed oxygen. It’s also possible to utilize an oxygen concentrator that operates using some type of electrical power, including batteries.

Do you or someone you love need professional elderly care in the Hartford Area? Call the team at Talem Home Care - Hartford - Avon today. You can reach us at (860) 530-4449. We’ll be happy to help.


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