Recognising Sepsis in Older People

September is Sepsis awareness month, but most of us don’t know much about this disease or in particular about recognising sepsis in older people. But older people, particularly those who have health issues, are even more susceptible to sepsis than any other group. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.


What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a potentially life threatening complication of an infection that can affect anyone.  Not every infection progresses to Sepsis but don’t be afraid to ask…‘Could this be Sepsis?’  If you, or someone you look after has symptoms of Sepsis as listed below, call for Medical Help or go to your local Emergency department.  It can affect anyone but is more common in the very young, the elderly or those with a weakened immune system.  Early recognition and treatment is critical- trust your instincts

Symptoms of Sepsis

  • Fever or very cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Discoloured, mottled skin
  • Sleep, difficult to rouse, confused
  • I feel like I’m going to die
  • Shortness of breath

Anybody at any age can get sepsis but it is more likely to occur in older people or very young children because their immune systems are weaker.


Sepsis needs to be suspected and recognized as quickly as possible. It must be treated fast. The risk of death increases every hour of delayed treatment.

Treatment is with IV fluids and antibiotics. Other medications, such as those to raise blood pressure may be needed. If someone you know is admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU), you may see many machines used to monitor various things, such as body function (heart rate, blood pressure), medications and IV fluids that are being administered, and perhaps a ventilator to help the patient breathe.


The key to preventing sepsis is to prevent an infection, especially among the aging, from occurring in the first place.

  • Many illnesses can be and are prevented through regular vaccinations, such as for the flu or pneumonia..
  • The risk of getting an infection also drops with proper hand washing. Thorough, proper, and frequent hand washing with either soap and water or soapless products decrease the number of pathogens that could enter your body.
  • Reduce infections by properly caring for all wounds, even the smallest scrape or cut. A thorough cleaning with soap and water will help remove any bacteria at the wound opening.
  • Take all infections seriously. Do not hope it will go away. Act quickly.
  • Try to ensure you eat a healthy diet. Malnutrition, not consuming enough nutrients for your needs, can lower your body’s ability to fight infection.


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