High-risk respiratory ailment can trigger other problems

Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in the elderly. Because some seniors have other medical issues with similar symptoms, pneumonia can go unrecognized. It is also known as the fifth leading cause of death in seniors and is the most common reason for death in seniors with severe dementia.

Pneumonia is typically caused by bacteria or viruses and often results in abnormal inflammation of the structures of the lungs. If the lungs become inflamed, liquid can build up in the tissue of the lungs, which can cause an infection that can spread throughout the body.

Pneumonia is often associated with, or triggered by, other medical complications and it has cut a wide swath across human history: from Leo Tolstoy to Freddie Mercury, Johann Strauss to Pavarotti, pneumonia has taken a huge toll.

While pneumonia can affect adults and children of any age, it appears to go undiagnosed in seniors simply because they are used to feeling unwell and do not report symptoms to their family doctor. Poor nutritional intake and decreased physical activity also play apart in the development of pneumonia.

Some common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • chest pain
  • excessive coughing
  • profuse sweating
  • shallow, quick breaths
  • fever chills

Are hospitals a more risky place for seniors to develop pneumonia? Yes, unfortunately they are. If a senior is in the hospital and there are traces of pneumonia within the hospital the likelihood of that person contracting pneumonia becomes greater. One of the biggest reasons seniors are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia in hospitals is simply because they are always in bed.


To help prevent a senior from developing pneumonia during their hospital stay, get them up into a chair or walking around. If they are upright, it allows the lungs to expand and makes it easier to cough and clear their lungs.

Once pneumonia is confirmed, respiratory treatments and antibiotics can be used to fight the infection and reduce inflammation. Recovery time can take up to 10 days and it is common for relapses.

If you are looking for ways to decrease your risk of developing pneumonia here are a few ways:

  • good dental care
  • keep active
  • proper nutrition
  • stop smoking

To help guard yourself against an encounter with pneumonia in later life, try to educate yourself about the disease and its causes. A good place to start is the Mayo Clinic, or the National Institutes of Health reference materials.

To access support programs, contact the American Lung Association or the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.