Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be serious in older adults. In fact, pneumonia is responsible for more than one million hospitalizations every year, according to the American Lung Association. Because our immune systems typically weaken as we age, seniors are generally at higher risk for complications and death. However, risk factors vary from person to person. Learn the facts about this potentially severe respiratory infection and how to prevent pneumonia in elderly adults. If you suspect your elderly loved one has pneumonia, see a doctor right away.
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that makes it difficult for the body to receive enough oxygen. Specifically, this infection causes inflammation and fluid build-up in the lungs.
Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs – also called double pneumonia. The severity of the infection depends on age, overall health, and what caused the infection.
There are more than 30 unique causes of pneumonia that can affect people of any age. The causes of pneumonia include the following:
Signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:
Symptoms may vary based on the cause of the pneumonia and how your loved one’s body responds to it. Sometimes, symptoms of pneumonia may be different in seniors. They may also be less alert, show signs of confusion, or experience changes in mental awareness. If you suspect your loved one has pneumonia, see a doctor promptly.
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Adults 65 and older are typically more susceptible to pneumonia than younger people are. Seniors with pneumonia are also at increased risk for hospitalization, complications, and death.
Researchers and doctors don’t fully understand why pneumonia is more aggressive in seniors. Older adults may have underlying health conditions or other risk factors that can make pneumonia more severe, including, but not limited to the following:
Pneumonia complications for people of all ages include the following:
While complications can be more common in elderly adults, the risk of complications depends upon an individual’s health and other unique circumstances.
The death rate among elderly adults with severe pneumonia is as high as 20%. Pneumonia in elderly adults can often be serious and progress quickly.
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A medical provider may use the following to diagnose pneumonia:
The process of diagnosing pneumonia may vary depending on your loved one’s health and their provider’s discretion.
Older adults, especially those with severe symptoms or those who are hospitalized, might undergo the following tests to diagnose pneumonia:
Treatment for pneumonia will depend upon what caused the pneumonia. For example, pneumonia caused by bacteria may be treated with appropriate antibiotics, while antibiotics would typically not be used to treat pneumonia caused by a virus.
In general, you can help your loved one recover from pneumonia by doing the following:
It can be overwhelming to be your loved one’s caregiver 24/7, especially when they have experienced severe pneumonia.
If your loved one has experienced severe complications and can’t return to their normal living arrangement, you may want to consider long-term care at a senior living community. The Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom can help you explore local senior care options, all at no cost to you.
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Older adults and their loved ones can help prevent pneumonia through a variety of measures, including the following:
Note: This article is for general information purposes only. Speak to a medical professional if you are concerned about you or your loved one having pneumonia or similar symptoms.
American Lung Association. (2022, November 17). Five facts you should know about pneumonia.
American Lung Association. (2023, August 3). What causes pneumonia.
American Lung Association. (2023, August 3). Pneumonia symptoms and diagnosis.
Li, W., Ding, C., & Yin, S. (2015, August 15). Severe pneumonia in the elderly: a multivariate analysis of risk factors.
American Lung Association. (2022, November 17). Learn about pneumonia.
American Lung Association. (2023, September 26). Pneumonia treatment and recovery.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Pneumonia recovery.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Pneumonia diagnosis.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Pneumonia prevention.
American Lung Association. (2023, October 23). Preventing pneumonia.
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