How can seniors prevent pneumonia?

Excerpt: Older adults are at greater risk of developing pneumonia and its potentially serious complications because their immune systems change with aging. To help prevent pneumonia, get pneumonia and flu shots, wash your hands often, and stay away from people with infectious illnesses. Learn to recognize symptoms, such as coughing with phlegm, fever, fast breathing, chills, and delirium, and see your doctor right away for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Older adults are at greater risk of developing pneumonia and having more severe pneumonia because their immune systems begin to change* as a normal part of aging, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Pneumonia is one of the top 10 reasons Canadians reported going to emergency departments, with about 135,000 pneumonia-related ED visits annually,* says the Canadian Institute for Health Information. For older adults, pneumonia is a leading cause of hospitalization and death,* according to Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing (NIA). Older adults account for about 65% of pneumonia-related hospital admissions,* says NIA, and 88% of pneumonia-related deaths occur among seniors,* says Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Preventing pneumonia and its complications

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help prevent pneumonia and reduce the risk of serious complications:

  • Immunize against pneumonia, if you are 65 or older, by speaking with your healthcare provider about getting both the pneumococcal vaccine that protects against 23 strains of pneumococcus bacteria and the other vaccine that protects against 13 strains,* advises the Ontario Lung Association.

  • Get your annual flu shot to prevent influenza because many people contract pneumonia after having the flu,* says NHLBI.

  • Wash your hands often to protect against respiratory infections that can lead to pneumonia,* says Mayo Clinic

  • Stay away from people who have infectious illnesses, and don’t share their cups or eating utensils,* advises the Canadian Lung Association

  • Keep your immune system strong by eating healthy foods, being physically active and getting plenty of rest,* suggests NHLBI.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi,* according to Mayo Clinic. The symptoms of pneumonia may include a cough (with phlegm that may be yellow, green or tinged with blood), fever, fast breathing and feeling short of breath, shaking and chills, chest pain that often feels worse when you cough or breathe in, fast heartbeat, feeling very tired or weak, nausea and vomiting and diarrhea,* according to HealthLink BC. Confusion or delirium is also a common symptom in older adults.*

See your doctor as soon as possible if you experience these symptoms, or you may need to go to the hospital, if the symptoms are severe.* If pneumonia is caused by bacteria, you’ll be treated with antibiotics, along with rest and lots of water,* advises the Canadian Lung Association. If it’s viral, treatment may include drinking plenty of fluids, corticosteroid medicine, oxygen and rest.*

*The following sources are references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Pneumonia.” (2018), online:

2. Canadian Institute for Health Information. “Pneumonia a leading cause of emergency department visits in Canada last year.” (2018), online:

3. Ryerson University. “As one of Canada’s top killers, why isn’t pneumonia taken more seriously?” (2019), online:

4. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “Why everyone over 65 should get the pneumonia vaccine.” (2019), online:

5. Ontario Lung Association. “Pneumonia vaccine.” (2018), online:

6. Mayo Clinic. “Pneumonia.” (2017), online:

7. Canadian Lung Association. “Pneumonia.” (2017), online:

8. HealthLink BC. “Pneumonia.” (2017), online: