Pneumonia in the very old

Lancet Infect Dis. 2004 Feb;4(2):112-24. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(04)00931-4.


Pneumonia is a major medical problem in the very old. The increased frequency and severity of pneumonia in the elderly is largely explained by the ageing of organ systems (in particular the respiratory tract, immune system, and digestive tract) and the presence of comorbidities due to age-associated diseases. The most striking characteristic of pneumonia in the very old is its clinical presentation: falls and confusion are frequently encountered, while classic symptoms of pneumonia are often absent. Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) and nursing-home acquired pneumonia (NHAP) have to be distinguished. Although there are no fundamental differences in pathophysiology and microbiology of the two entities, NHAP tends to be much more severe, because milder cases are not referred to the hospital, and residents of nursing homes often suffer from dementia, multiple comorbidities, and decreased functional status. The immune response decays with age, yet pneumococcal and influenza vaccines have their place for the prevention of pneumonia in the very old. Pneumonia in older individuals without terminal disease has to be distinguished from end-of-life pneumonia. In the latter setting, the attributable mortality of pneumonia is low and antibiotics have little effect on life expectancy and should be used only if they provide the best means to alleviate suffering. In this review, we focus on recent publications relative to CAP and NHAP in the very old, and discuss predisposing factors, microorganisms, diagnostic procedures, specific aspects of treatment, prevention, and ethical issues concerning end-of-life pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / immunology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnosis
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnostic imaging
  • Community-Acquired Infections / microbiology
  • Community-Acquired Infections / therapy
  • Delirium / diagnosis
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Nursing Homes
  • Pneumonia* / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumonia* / microbiology
  • Pneumonia* / therapy
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Radiography
  • Tuberculosis / epidemiology
  • Vaccination


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents