Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in elderly patients. Therefore, efforts to optimize the healthcare process for patients with CAP are warranted. An organized approach to management is likely to improve clinical results. Assessing the severity of CAP is crucial to predicting outcome, deciding the site of care, and selecting appropriate empirical therapy. Unfortunately, current prognostic scoring systems for CAP such as CURB-65 (confusion, uraemia, respiratory rate, low blood pressure and 65 years of age) or the Pneumonia Severity Index have not been validated specifically in older adults, in whom assessment of mortality risk alone might not be adequate for predicting outcomes. Obtaining a microbial diagnosis remains problematic and may be particularly challenging in frail elderly persons, who may have greater difficulties producing sputum. Effective empirical treatment involves selection of a regimen with a spectrum of activity that includes the causative pathogen. Although most cases of CAP are probably caused by a single pathogen, dual and multiple infections are increasingly being reported. Streptococcus pneumoniae remains the overriding aetiological agent, particularly in very elderly people. However, respiratory viruses and 'atypical' organisms such as Chlamydia pneumoniae are being described with increasing frequency in old patients, and aspiration pneumonia should also be taken into consideration, particularly in very elderly subjects and those with dementia. Age >65 years is a well established risk factor for infection with drug-resistant S. pneumoniae. Clinicians should be aware of additional risk factors for acquiring less common pathogens or antibacterial-resistant organisms that may suggest that additions or modifications to the basic empirical regimen are warranted. In addition to administration of antibacterials, appropriate supportive therapy, covering management of severe sepsis and septic shock, respiratory failure, as well as management of any decompensated underlying disease, may be critical to improving outcomes in elderly patients with CAP. Immunization with pneumococcal and influenza vaccines has also been demonstrated to be beneficial in numerous large studies. There is good evidence that implementation of guidelines leads to improvement in clinical outcomes in elderly patients with CAP, including a reduction in mortality. Protocols should address a comprehensive set of elements in the process of care and should periodically be evaluated to measure their effects on clinically relevant outcomes. Assessment of functional clinical outcome variables, in addition to survival, is strongly recommended for this population.