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Pneumonia in the Elderly: What You Need to Know

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated February 10, 2024

Pneumonia falls into a category of illnesses that regularly carry far more serious consequences for older adults. Seniors are more prone to pneumonia and at a greater risk of complications or death, which is why prevention, early detection, and fast treatment are crucial.

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What causes pneumonia in elderly adults?

Pneumonia in older adults is often caused by infections from bacteria, viruses, or fungi. These infections make the lungs’ air sacs fill with fluid or pus, which makes breathing difficult. Older adults can be more at risk, especially if they have other health conditions. Pneumonia may develop after a senior has a cold, the flu, or another respiratory infection.

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Why is pneumonia in the elderly so common?

Pneumonia is relatively common in older adults, and there are several reasons why. As people get older, their bodies aren’t as good at fighting off germs, which makes it easier to get lung infections like pneumonia. This is especially true for those over 65 or with health issues like heart or lung problems.
Also, older adults might find it harder to clear out mucus from their lungs because their muscles are not as strong. This can lead to more infections. Things like staying in the hospital, having chronic illnesses like asthma, smoking, or having a weak immune system also make older adults more likely to get pneumonia.[01]

How to prevent pneumonia in your elderly loved ones

The best way to prevent pneumonia in your aging loved ones is to help them stay healthy so they don’t get sick in the first place. Here are some steps you can take:
  • Help them quit smoking if they smoke.
  • Remind them to wash their hands often.
  • Make sure they eat healthy foods.
  • Encourage them to exercise.
  • Ensure they’re getting enough sleep.
Developing a healthy lifestyle will strengthen your loved one’s immune system, which will help them get sick less often (and heal faster when they do).
To further prevent pneumonia in elderly loved ones, try these additional recommendations:
  • Get them a flu shot every year. Pneumonia can come after illnesses like the flu, so flu shots can lower the chance of getting sick in the first place.
  • Have them get the pneumococcal vaccine. It doesn’t stop all types of pneumonia, but it helps with many. This vaccine is a good idea for anyone over 65.
  • Try to keep them away from people who are sick. This can be hard, especially if they need a lot of help, but it’s important because older people can catch illnesses more easily.
Remember, even with all these steps, there’s still a chance they could get sick. If you think your elderly loved one might be ill, it’s important to visit a doctor as soon as possible.

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Symptoms of pneumonia in elderly adults

Signs of pneumonia in the elderly are often less noticeable. It’s important to monitor your loved one’s health, recognize these symptoms, and get them the right treatment to prevent serious complications.[02] Make an appointment with your loved one’s doctor if they exhibit any of these symptoms:
  • A cough, especially if it produces mucus
  • Mucus that’s green or tinged with blood
  • Fever
  • Chills that cause shaking
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Chest pain, often made worse by coughing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Shortness of breath
Because seniors often exhibit fewer or milder symptoms (such as a cough without mucus), even minor symptoms could point toward a serious problem. Don’t be afraid of “overreacting.” Talk to a doctor if you’re worried.

Pneumonia treatment for elderly loved ones

Any symptoms of pneumonia in your elderly loved ones should be assessed by a doctor. If they have contracted pneumonia, your doctor can help by prescribing antibiotic or antiviral medications to treat the illness. Remember, it’s important to complete the full course of treatment, even if symptoms start to ease and your loved one finds themselves feeling much better before finishing their medication. Additionally, ensure they get lots of fluids, eat well, and avoid smoking during this time.
Don’t forget to keep yourself healthy, too. If you have any illness that’s contagious, you put your loved one at risk by interacting with them. Maintaining your own health is an essential part of giving the best care possible to your loved one.


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2020, June 13). Pneumonia.

  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). What is pneumonia?

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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