Symptoms Of Pneumonia In Elderly: Diagnosis and Treatment

Pneumonia is a serious illness that affects seniors in a way that is radical and different from others. It sees to target seniors because it is so rampant in that age group. It is therefore important to understand as much as you can about pneumonia, its causes, how it can be prevented, and the way seniors contract it so as to get help when the need arises. Pneumonia symptoms in elderly have to be understood so that action can be taken as soon as possible.

What it is

Before delving into specifics, it is important to know what pneumonia is physiologically speaking. It is an infection of the lungs affecting alveoli, the air sacs that are found in the lungs. The alveoli can be inflamed because of the infection and this can make it difficult to even breathe.

This means that the lungs tend to function ineffectively in the role of oxygenating blood, the air sacs can also be infected and they can fill with pus or other fluid. The way they are designed, the alveoli should not hold any fluid.

They are meant for air and when there happens to be fluid in there, it becomes impossible for the lungs to function as they are supposed to. This is what makes the illness so serious and it has very serious consequences, especially when it is not checked in time.

What is bronchial pneumonia?

Bronchial pneumonia is the infection that happens within the bronchial tubes. It is all about the area that pneumonia has affected. It may be hard to tell the difference between bronchitis vs. pneumonia and that’s why it is important to seek help as soon as an issue arises.

What is double pneumonia?

Double pneumonia is a kind of lung infection affecting both lungs.

High-risk groups

It is quite hard to understand pneumonia due to the fact that the causes associated with it are not specific. You cannot say that there is a specific thing that brings about pneumonia. There are also many risk factors that can lead to the development of the disease.

Among the risk factors is age. This is why the elderly, especially those over 65 years are within the high-risk category. Children, most especially infants, tend to be at a higher risk as well. Adults with different lung diseases like COPD also fall under the category.

Severe cases of pneumonia in seniors

Pneumonia can be very severe or mild. However, when it comes to seniors, pneumonia infection is almost always very severe. What is the difference between pneumonia and walking pneumonia? The mild version of the disease usually termed as walking pneumonia. This is because those affected only feel a little sick and the infection is not severe to require one to be hospitalized.

When it is severe, one may need some emergency medical care. It may be necessary for the patient to receive some form of oxygen therapy so as to help with the decreased capacity of the lungs.

Fluid within the lungs

Bacterial, Fungal, parasitic, and viral infections can all lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Streptococcus pneumonia is a bacterium that causes most of the bacterial pneumonia cases even though there are other causes.

Anything which leads to the inflammation, as well as the accumulation of fluid within, can be considered as a pneumonia origin.

Resulting from other illnesses

Resulting from other illnesses

Flu is not always the cause of pneumonia, but there is still some truth to that idea generally speaking. Sometimes flu and pneumonia can occur simultaneously. This is what is called secondary bacterial pneumonia.

There are viral causes too. Where there is a high fluid buildup in the chest or sinuses, viral pneumonia can occur within one’s lungs. Also, pneumonia can piggyback other diseases and it can be very severe to the extent of causing death than it is on its own.

This only tells you there are so many ways that pneumonia can happen, but the issue cannot be addressed in just one single way.

Seniors and pneumonia

So, are seniors more prone to contracting pneumonia? The answer is yes. While the risk factors can be different from one individual to the next, there are some factors that can make people more prone to pneumonia than others. They include:

⇒ Older age: just as I had mentioned, age is one of the greatest risk factors which places seniors at a great risk of getting the ailment. The immune system gets ineffective as we grow older and this is why vulnerabilities for diseases keep on rising. This is one of the points where the issues started.

⇒ Serious conditions such as heart disease: there are many serious illnesses like heart disease that could raise the vulnerabilities of contracting pneumonia. Smoking can also play a part in the vulnerabilities. This is a factor that can affect all people, but for older adults, it becomes even worse. Seniors with different serious conditions tend to be at a greater risk of infections than other people.

⇒ Inability to cough strongly: the risk factors for the elderly can be very surprising. The senior, who is not able to cough as effectively after stroke can be at a higher risk. When the body is frail generally, a person is at a higher risk of pneumonia. When one is able to expel an infection source that is present within their lungs, then pneumonia can be prevented.

Coughing is one of the ways through which the body is able to get rid of the infectious elements within the lungs. When one is not able to cough, then the elements within the lungs remain intact. Extra care needs to be taken when a senior person is not able to cough in a productive way.

⇒ Things that end up affecting the lungs: contagious diseases are a great cause of senior pneumonia. Flu is not the only concern that exists. Common colds may lead to pneumonia when a senior is vulnerable. Issues affecting one’s lungs can actually lead to some form of inflammation or a buildup of fluid within the lungs.

This means that things that can be considered as mundane can lead to the development of pneumonia. This may include things such as mould spores. This means that a clean environment is always important for anyone who is vulnerable, including the elderly.

⇒ Environments that are infectious: seniors in nursing homes, hospitals, or any other institutional settings tend to be at greater risk of dying due to contraction of hospital-acquired pneumonia as compared to other people who are within the same age group, but in different living conditions.

The first thing you should note is the fact that a hospital is a place where many sick people tend to congregate as they seek medical attention. In such settings, there are more risks of getting exposed to pneumonia than other places.

Seniors who are within the institutional setting trend to be suffering from different kinds of illnesses and some may have compromised immune systems.

This does not mean that when a healthy senior goes to a facility for an assisted living they contract pneumonia immediately on getting there, but the risk factors are great since they will be exposed.

Be informed and be mindful of all the many risks that are closely associated with pneumonia, especially where the elderly are concerned. Flu and pneumonia are related, but Flu is not the only cause of pneumonia in the elderly. Pneumonia happens to be a serious disease that has serious consequences. The biggest consequence is death.

You should also appreciate the fact that the consequences are more pronounced in seniors and very young children. Every caregiver and every senior need to know all the possible symptoms that are associated with pneumonia so as to get help early and avoid the risks associated with it. Being an infectious disease, the best thing is to catch it early so as to avoid all the devastating outcomes that come with it.

The symptoms associated with pneumonia

So, what are the things that can warn you of a pneumonia infection? The first thing you should know about is all the risk factors that we have already looked at. Seniors who are sick and those that have issues coughing are at a risk.

Also, those that have an immune system that is compromised and living under institutional settings are also at a very high risk of contracting the illness. When you know the risk factors, then you can easily put pneumonia into perspective. A senior may experience sudden cough fits, but that does not mean they are infected.

However, this is not to mean that such a senior is not likely to develop the issue as time passes on. When a cough is persistent, you should be concerned because it is a sign of disease that can precede pneumonia. Chest infection symptoms could be an indication of pneumonia onset.

1. Productive coughs

This is one of the symptoms of pneumonia. However, it is usually a cough which brings up yellow or green fluid like pus or phlegm because the airway has fluid. The sputum may also have blood. Coughs are not always productive when pneumonia is present. In other cases, pneumonia in the elderly can be caused by inflammation, not just fluid.

Also, coughing is not a unique symptom in all the pneumonia cases. This is very true when a senior is malnourished or when they are not able to cough well. While you need to stay alert if you are coughing, it is not an isolated sign that an elderly person is actually suffering from pneumonia.

2. Confusion and weakness

The other symptoms that you should be aware of our weakness and confusion. Confusion can be evident in the elderly people suffering from pneumonia than other age groups. This is one of the signs that the doctors look out when older people are concerned.

The lungs may not be absorbing the oxygen, meaning that the entire body, including the brain, the muscles, and the heart are not functioning to full capacity. Inadequate oxygen can lead to the toes, the fingertips, or the tips to become blue. These are signs that should be considered as very alarming as they are an indication that the infection is very serious.

3. Chills and fever

Chills and fever should be taken seriously. If you are a caregiver, this is one of the things that you need to be aware of all the time. If an elderly person has been sick and seems to be better then they suddenly spike fevers, this should be a cause for great concern.

It is important to note that in people 65 years and older, pneumonia can lead to temperatures that are abnormally low so one needs to stay alert for that as well.

4. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be present when one has pneumonia. It is also very common when a senior is not able to cough. The pain can be very great and may require one to use prescription painkillers as part of the treatment plan. Sometimes you can tell that an elderly is affected because of pneumonia breath sounds.

The prevention techniques

the prevention techniques

You may be wondering how possible it is to avert pneumonia. The answer could be yes and it could be no. Some steps can be taken to lessen the chances of developing infections. Pneumonia is still an issue for older people and anyone with infections within their respiratory system.

There are no guaranteed methods of pneumonia prevention and that is rather unfortunate. However, pneumonia cannot be considered an inevitability. This means that there are some steps that can be taken so as to try to dodge it. Some of the techniques that can be applied include:

⇒ Vaccination

This is definitely a great option where the elderly are concerned. They should, therefore, pursue inoculation actively, especially when there are any conditions that could possibly increase the chances of lung infection.

Getting flu vaccines is not a bad idea and is a measure of prevention that can be applied against pneumonia and flu as well. Seniors should strive to stay as healthy as possible and avoid illness by all means. When they avoid illness, the chances of developing pneumonia, as well as other kinds of ailments, is greatly reduced.

Don’t get into close contact with ill people

As much as you can, handle seniors with care so that they don’t get any germs. All visitors, including friends, caregivers, and even grandchildren need to be in the best health if they are meant to care for seniors.

When an elderly is over the 75 years old, extra caution should be taken. If you are sick, please avoid visiting an elderly person’s home. Even if you are healthy, exercise healthy habits such as cleaning and sanitizing your hands as frequently as you possibly can.

⇒ Risky Environments

When an elderly person is visiting environment that is high risk, it is important to take care not to get sick. If you have to be with sick people, then you should take precautions. The kind of care taken should be closely related to their vulnerability.

If you have an underlying risk factor, then you should be very cautious as you travel to places like the doctor’s office, the hospital, or areas where there are very young children.

Such seniors need to wear a face mask that is medical grade and one that is able to filter bacterial and viral microbes. Washing hands frequently is a great idea for the elderly who are at a high risk. When you stay healthy consistently, then you should be able to stay clear of infections.

⇒ Keep the home mould free and clean

A senior’s home should be clean in all aspects. Ventilation is also very important. Ensure there is adequate fresh air circulating within the home. A senior person may require some extra help with cleaning their homes regularly due to differences in capabilities that they may be having.

Any mildew, mould, or musty smell needs remedying after careful examination. Stay alert for any changes that could come suddenly. Also, look out for the onset of confusion and fatigue in an elderly person. If an older person gets sick, get them medical care as early as possible and follow up so that you can confirm that the recovery is normal.

Caring for an elderly person with pneumonia

There are different ways in which pneumonia can be diagnosed and this can include chest x-rays that determine whether there are lung blockages. This helps doctors to make a determination of how far the infection has spread. A blood test may be necessary.

Antibiotics are some of the treatment options that can be used by doctors. There are some bacterial infection strains that have become resistant to antibiotics over time.

Regardless of what caused pneumonia, you need to get help for the senior as soon as you possibly can. Encourage the elderly to get vaccinated as this can help to a great extent.

Taking medications

So as to recover well, you will need to take all medications just the way the doctor prescribed them to you. This means that you should take the medications in a continuous manner, even when the symptoms tend to be clearing up.

When you do not finish your antibiotic course, you leave a bacterium that is still infectious within your system and this is how strains are created. To avoid the issue of reinfection, you should take the medications, according to the doctor’s orders and in the duration of time indicated.

Hospital Treatment

Hospital Treatment

The elderly can be admitted into a hospital when infected with pneumonia. This is a time when they can receive pain medications, treatment, and oxygen fluid. They may need to be in the hospital for quite some time and for as long as the doctor recommends.

Usually, mild pneumonia may not require one to be hospitalized. You may also be hospitalized if you have other conditions that can make pneumonia worse, such as such as COPD or diabetes.

During pneumonia treatment, elderly people should be kept under close monitoring so as to note any negative changes in their health and help them immediately.

Hydration, rest, and monitoring

Hydration and rest are the basic steps that are needed during recovery after a hospital discharge or when one does not have to be admitted. The seniors need to be monitored so as to ensure that the infection doesn’t come back or even become worse.

Be mindful of the symptoms and also know that pneumonia can be very persistent and hard to deal with elderly persons. Recovery from pneumonia in elderly should be taken seriously as well. It is important to keep the person under very close monitoring.

It is important to note that an elderly person could be very weak because of physical capabilities as well as a compromised immune system. Therefore, monitoring and allowing them to rest is essential. Since the elderly can also be quite forgetful.

It is important to make sure that they take all their drugs on time, take lots of fluids, and eat a healthy and balanced diet. The fact that pneumonia has the likelihood of being persistent and difficult to treat in the elderly should be one of the things that should encourage us to be more vigilant in caring for elderly persons.


There are many differences between the flu and pneumonia and the presence of one doesn’t really indicate the presence of another. However, flu is an infection that could ultimately lead to the development of pneumonia. Infections in the elderly should be taken seriously and treated as soon as they arise.

You can’t prevent all sorts of infections, but getting vaccinated and living in a clean environment can really help to a great extent. Knowing the possible signs and symptoms should help you stay on high alert whether you are an elderly person or an adult taking care of a senior. Pneumonia can be life-threatening and should be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.

Written By
Kate Mallord is a health blogger. In the year 1988, She graduated from the University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio. Kate is an exemplary doctor. She has always devoted herself to caring for older adult patients. Read More