Pneumonia in the Elderly - Risks, Treatment, Prevention

Pneumonia is the fourth leading cause of death among the elderly. 90%+ death of pneumonia every year occurs in age group 65+.  The government has released the prediction that 25% of US population in 2050 will be people older than 65. These people are at high risk of pneumonia, and a high rate of morbidity and mortality from pneumonia. 

The treatment on pneumonia has developed in the past two decades. However, the elderly group has weakened immunity function, and usually has chronic diseases. These risk factors raised the difficulty in treating pneumonia in the elderly. 

The chronic diseases that might raise the risks in pneumonia include:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease including COPD
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Spleen disease
  • Medical conditions or treatment that impairs the immune system
  • Swallowing difficulty resulting from stroke, Parkinson’s or advanced dementia

Poor lifestyle is another risk factor of pneumonia in the elderly, including:

  • Alcoholism
  • History of smoking
  • Poor dental hygiene 

Pneumonia combined with heart disease can cause heart failure. Diabetes combined with pneumonia can cause 40 of 100 death. Swallowing difficulty, alcoholism and poor dental hygiene raises the risk of Aspiration pneumonia. Patients with nosocomial infections are more likely to be infected with drug-resistant strains. These are examples of pneumonia causing higher risk for the elderly. 

Typical treatment of pneumonia include the following. US CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) updates diagnosis and medical management guidelines each year. Doctors generally follow the guidelines in treating pneumonia patients. 

  • Antibiotics
  • Respiratory treatment to remove secretions
  • Oxygen if necessary
  • Antiviral medications 
  • Corticosteriods can be used in treating aspiration pneumonia

For the elderly, prevention of pneumonia by injection of vaccine is highly recommended. FDA has licensed two types of vaccines, the PCV13 and PPSV23. The elderly who have never taken pneumonia vaccine should take a dose of PCV13 first, then take another dose of PPSV23 in 12 months. The prevention from vaccine serotypes in the elderly age group is more than 50%. 


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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.