What the Senior Care Industry Needs to Know About Antimicrobial Resistance

Anthony Senagore

Dr. Anthony Senagore, senior medical director, PolyPid

While COVID-19 has largely been the centralized focus of the senior care facility for the past year or more, there’s another growing health risk that the senior care industry needs to be aware of. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is already causing thousands of deaths annually, and seniors are particularly at risk.

Understanding Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms adapt, allowing them to  resist and outsmart antibiotics. As a result, some of the antibiotics used to prevent bacterial infections are being rendered useless, so patients who have basic procedures and routine surgeries could be put at risk of deadly infections.

AMR is already providing deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that AMR causes more than 2.8 million infections in the United States each year. Those infections result in more than 35,000 deaths annually.

Seniors, particularly those in senior care settings, are at heightened risk for ARM infections. A study published in October 2021 found that 40% of the deaths that the most common antibiotic-resistant infections caused occurred in Americans age 65 and older.

Dr. Anthony Senagore, senior medical director of PolyPid, explains that several factors contribute to the senior population’s risk for AMR. “This population is domiciled in a high-density location, and the population has frequent encounters in general with healthcare, both in hospitals and otherwise,” he notes. “They’re already at higher risk for alterations in microbiome, colonization with adverse bacteria, and exposures to antibiotics. The odds of this population having antimicrobial drug-resistant bacteria is really high.”

A Growing Threat

The World Health Organization predicts that AMR will result in 10 million deaths annually by 2050. Dr. Senagore explains that we’re already seeing the implications of AMR for the senior care industry. If a senior needs to go into a facility, like a hospital, for care, they’re at risk of being infected by these antimicrobial-resistant bugs. If the senior then returns to a senior care community, they could expose other at-risk people to those same bugs. “It becomes a circular interaction because of how people domicile and the frequent exposure they have,” says Dr. Senagore.

Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance

It’s important for the senior care industry, and the health care industry as a whole, to address the threat of AMR before it gets out of control. Dr. Senagore notes that there are two broad opportunities to help prevent AMR.

Antibiotic stewardship is the first. It’s essential to use the correct antibiotics for the clinical scenario and the type of bacteria being treated. The antibiotic therapy also needs to have a finite duration. This deliberate, precise use of antibiotics can help to reduce the opportunities that bacteria have to become resistant to these treatments.

How we deliver antibiotics can also help to prevent AMR. Dr. Senagore explains that more targeted antibiotic delivery methods are being developed. These delivery methods would allow doctors to get the antibiotic exactly in the body where it needs to be, and to deliver those doses at a high level. Rather than treating the entire body with a course of antibiotics, this type of delivery system would be more precise and would expose only the targeted area to the treatment.

As that technology is being developed, senior care facilities can also take an active role in fighting AMR by practicing good public health. Following public health best practices can help to reduce disease transmission between individuals. Maintaining a clean facility and reducing the amount of bacteria present on common surfaces can go a long way toward helping to prevent bacteria spread and keeping residents and staff healthy.

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