Seniors are highly susceptible to pneumonia because aging interferes with the body’s ability to remove secretions containing bacteria from the lungs, according to AgingCare.com. Pneumococcal bacteria that grows in the nose and throat may travel to the bronchial tubes if the body can’t effectively clear it out, causing infection-inducing mucus and pus to build up and restrict oxygen flow throughout the body.
Seniors are also more likely to display multiple pneumonia risk factors, states AgingCare.com. Seniors often have other health conditions or undergo treatments that suppress the immune system, such as diabetes, chemotherapy or steroids, making it difficult for their bodies to fight infection. Seniors suffering from severe pain or recovering from surgery may take shallow breaths, so mucus is cleared out of the airways more slowly. Having an existing respiratory illness, such as asthma, COPD or cystic fibrosis, significantly increases a senior’s vulnerability to a pneumococcal lung infection, especially if that person doesn't receive regular flu vaccinations.
Approximately 30 percent of patients treated for severe pneumonia in intensive-care units die from the infection, and about 5 to 10 percent of patients treated in any hospital setting die from pneumonia, according to MedicineNet. While less common, hospital-acquired pneumonia is more severe than community-acquired pneumonia, and hospitalized seniors using a ventilator for respiratory support have a high risk of contracting the infection. Other risks that may affect seniors include coughing and swallowing problems related to stroke, a history of smoking or malnutrition.