Pneumonia in seniors: What you should know

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes fluid to collect in the tiny air sacs known as alveoli. When alveoli become filled with fluid and inflamed, breathing becomes more difficult, and the lungs are less able to oxygenate our blood. Pneumonia is a very dangerous illness with serious potential outcomes, especially for seniors.

Senior risks for pneumonia

BHC pneumonia main 0219.jpgSeniors are at higher risk for pneumonia for a variety of reasons, including depressed immune systems and susceptibility due to other conditions like cardiopulmonary disease or diabetes. If a senior exhibits symptoms of flu or respiratory infection, it’s important to seek treatment to help prevent the development of pneumonia.

Signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:

  • Chest pain when breathing or coughing
  • Coughing up phlegm
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, sweating and chills
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath

However, typical symptoms like a cough, chills and fever are less frequent in the elderly who may instead exhibit symptoms like confusion, disorientation or delirium or a lower-than-normal body temperature versus a fever.

Complications of pneumonia in seniors

Seniors who are diagnosed with pneumonia are at increased risk of respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, have a higher incidence of septic shock and are at greater risk for death caused by pneumonia and its complications.

Complications can include:

  • Bacteria in the bloodstream that can spread the infection to other organs, potentially causing organ failure.
  • Difficulty breathing, especially in those with chronic underlying lung diseases.
  • Fluid accumulation around the lungs which can become infected and require surgery.
  • Lung abscesses that may be treatable with antibiotics but may require surgery.

How can we help prevent pneumonia?

  • Seniors and caregivers should be vaccinated to help prevent infection.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Keep the senior’s residence clean and free from potential lung irritants such as dust and mold.
  • Clean surfaces that are touched a lot with hot, soapy water and germicidal solutions.
  • Keep those with contagious respiratory infections away from vulnerable seniors.
  • Limit contact with cigarette smoke.
  • Manage conditions like diabetes so the body has a stronger immune response and easier recovery.

Treating pneumonia in seniors

Many seniors with pneumonia will need to be admitted to the hospital for monitoring and treatment with oxygen, fluids, antibiotics where appropriate, pain medication and in some cases mechanical breathing assistance while their lungs heal. Particularly vulnerable seniors may need 24-hour care to recover.

After developing pneumonia, it often takes six to eight weeks until a patient returns to their normal wellbeing. Rest and hydration are critical aftercare for seniors who have been hospitalized or who are being treated at home for milder cases. All seniors need careful monitoring to ensure the pneumonia infection doesn’t worsen or recur.

Belvedere Home Care can help keep seniors healthier in their own homes, which can help make them better able to fight off infections such as pneumonia. We’re also available around the clock and on flexible schedules so your senior loved one who is recovering from pneumonia can get all the care they need.

For more information, contact us at 518-694-9400 or