Recognizing Hypoxia in the Elderly
Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when the body does not receive enough oxygen. This can occur due to a variety of medical issues that are often common among seniors such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or sleep apnea. If your parent has one of these conditions, an important aspect of elder care is being able to recognize the warning signs of hypoxia, as it is considered a medical emergency and immediate treatment is needed to prevent organ damage.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia
The symptoms of hypoxia are not identical for every person, but some of the most common symptoms include:
- Changes in skin tone; bluish tone to a bright or darker red
- Accelerated breathing, feeling short of breath or wheezing
- A faster than normal heart rate
- Coughing, sweating or confusion
Accelerated breathing occurs when a person is suffering from hypoxia because the body is attempting to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood, while an increased heart rate occurs as the heart pumps harder and faster in an attempt to circulate more oxygen to the tissues and organs in the body. When hypoxia is severe, heart rate can actually decrease to under 60 beats per minute and breathing can become deeper and shallower.
The Mayo Clinic also stresses the importance of seeing a doctor for the following:
- If your parent becomes short of breath even when resting or after modest physical effort
- If your loved one has shortness of breath that worsens with exercise or other forms of physical activity
- If your parent experiences signs of sleep apnea such as waking up feeling short of breath
Living with Shortness of Breath
If your parent has oxygen or lives with chronic shortness of breath, there are some things you and your parent can do to cope with the situation. Staying away from secondhand smoke, which can cause more damage to the lungs, is very important. If your parent smokes, quitting is the best way to breathe easier. Also avoid chemicals or dust in the air, whenever possible. While it may seem difficult, exercise is an important part of improving overall lung strength and health. Before beginning an exercise regime, check with your parent’s doctor to make sure it’s okay to begin exercising. Always start slow and don’t overdo it.
Important Facts about Chronic Hypoxia
When a person has a low blood oxygen level or chronic hypoxemia, the signs and symptoms can vary greatly and are dependent on how severe the condition is. Issues such as feeling lethargic or irritable, having problems with judgement and an overall feeling of fatigue are common. Some people who have chronic hypoxia develop polycythemia, which is an increase in the number of red blood cells. Typically, this develops slowly and accounts for a pink or reddish skin tone. When chronic hypoxia goes untreated, clubbing of the fingertips can occur, along with high blood pressure in the lungs and pulmonary edema. If you suspect your loved one has an issue with chronic hypoxia, see a physician.
A person who lives with chronic hypoxia can benefit from long-term oxygen therapy. In a study of 68 male patients with COPD, conducted by Green Lane Hospital, many aspects regarding quality of life were improved with treatment including a reduction of anxiety, lessened depression, and an improvement regarding fatigue and emotional function. Using supplemental oxygen can relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath and make it easier for the heart to work. Compressed oxygen, liquid oxygen or an oxygen concentrator may be used, but concentrators need an electrical supply to run.
If you or an aging loved one are considering elderly care in the Northern Colorado Area, please call and speak to the caring staff at Allay Home Care. Call today at (970) 299-9797.