Sepsis in Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities

Challenges in Diagnosis and Management

Thomas T. Yoshikawa, MD; Bernardo J. Reyes, MD; Joseph G. Ouslander, MD


J Am Geriatr Soc. 2019;67(6):2234-2239. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Despite the current understanding of the pathophysiology of sepsis and advances in its treatment, the rate of sepsis is increasing globally. Sepsis is a common cause of hospitalization in older adults, and infections are among the most common diagnoses among residents transferred to the hospital from long-term care facilities (LTCFs). LTCFs and hospitals are facing financial and regulatory requirements to reduce potentially preventable emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and hospital readmissions due to infections and other causes. In addition, the human and financial costs of these events are substantial. Current criteria for early identification of sepsis have low sensitivity and specificity among LTCF residents. Early diagnosis must focus on changes in clinical, mental, and functional status, and vital signs including pulse oximetry. Laboratory data can increase the suspicion of sepsis, but the availability of testing and timing of results limits its usefulness in most LTCFs. While new diagnostic criteria for sepsis are being developed and validated in the LTCF setting, clinical practice and decision support tools are available to guide management. Most LTFCs do not have the capabilities to manage sepsis based on current guidelines despite availability of qualified nursing staff and clinicians. Thus excluding circumstances in which a resident's desire is palliative or hospice care without transfer to a hospital, most LTCFs will continue to transfer residents with severe infections at risk for evolving into sepsis to an acute hospital setting.