Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia in the Elderly

Pneumonia can be deadly, if it is not caught and treated early on. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is one of the ten leading causes of death for persons over the age of 65 1. Therefore, it is important to recognize signs and symptoms early. Symptoms may be more severe for persons over 65.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Pneumonia is a very serious lung condition. It occurs when pus and other fluids accumulate in the air sacs causing irritation and inflammation in the lungs. As this occurs, blood and cells do not receive the oxygen required for proper function. Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs and can be caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses, irritants or exposure to chemicals. Since the elderly can often have chronic lung problems, the condition may be harder to detect.

On-set Symptoms

Symptoms may appear gradually or suddenly depending on the person. The danger is of course when symptoms appear gradually as the patient may not recognize the symptoms as pneumonia. At this stage, the patient may have symptoms similar to a cold, respiratory infection or a bad case of the flu.

Common Symptoms

The most common symptoms of the flu in seniors is severe chills, chest pain and cough. Generally, the cough tends to be dry. While most younger patients develop a high fever of up to 105 degrees, seniors may have pneumonia when no fever is present at all. Pneumonia can also cause the fever to be lower than normal.

Other Symptoms

Another common sign of pneumonia in seniors is a change in mental clarity. If someone over 65 has pneumonia, she may exhibit signs of confusion or disorientation. Having pneumonia may cause the lips or nail beds to turn a bluish color. This is caused by the body's lack of oxygen. Some patients have a rapid pulse, difficultly breathing as well as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Additional Signs

Pneumonia may cause sufferers to feel very weak or tired for a long period of time. Seniors who have other existing lung conditions will often notice that condition becoming worse when they are developing pneumonia. This includes conditions such as bronchitis, emphysema or other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.