When your parents begin to age, you and your family are faced with the difficult decision of whether to help your parents age in a nursing home or in the comfort of their own home. While you will consider factors such as cost, comfort, socializing, and more, you will also want to consider disease risk,

increased disease risk in nursing homes

As our bodies age, we become more susceptible to getting sick because our immune system changes and doesn’t function as well. Your immune system becomes slower to respond, and the healing process also slows down significantly. Thanks to these changes, you become more likely to get sick as you age. You can decrease age-related disease risks by getting vaccinated, exercising, eating healthy foods, and not smoking or drinking.

For your aging parents, it becomes even more important for them to have a clean home that will lower their risk of getting sick. In their or your home, it’s easy to make cleanliness and frequent hand-washing a habit among caretakers and visitors.

However, in a nursing home, you don’t have as much control over the environment, which can increase your loved one’s chances of getting sick. A New York Times article found that the percentage of nursing homes cited for deficiencies in “hand hygiene” has been rising recently, with inspectors finding deficiencies in close to 12% of nursing homes in 2009. While most facilities understand the importance of hand washing, it’s difficult to ensure that the staff and caretakers are adhering to high cleanliness standards.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, one third of all deaths in seniors over 65 results from infectious diseases, with the leading infections including bacterial pneumonia and influenza. Community settings such as nursing homes increase exposure to the disease, while influenza (the “flu”) is easily transmitted by coughing and sneezing, making the risk of infection especially high in closed environments like nursing homes.

Aging at home is one of the best ways to prevent your loved one from contracting a dangerous infectious disease. Caregivers should learn about the most common infections and their symptoms, while also making sure that everyone in the household washes their hands frequently. Visitors should not come if they are sick or getting over an illness, and children especially should be helped with frequent hand-washing. By taking these kinds of preventative measures, you can greatly decrease the chances that your aging parents will contract an infectious disease.