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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Pneumonia Hospitalizes More Seniors

Advanced Age Raises Vulnerability; Chronic Illnesses May Also Be a Factor
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 7, 2005 -- The number of U.S. senior citizens hospitalized for pneumonia has risen, health officials report.

Their core findings:

  • People age 85 and older had the most deaths and hospitalizations from pneumonia.
  • Pneumonia hospitalizations rose 20% for people aged 65-84 from 1988-1990 to 2000-2002

Advanced age can make pneumonia more dangerous. With Americans living longer than ever, that's a reason for concern, write the CDC's Alicia Fry, MD, MPH, and colleagues.

The study appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

What Would Help?

Fry's team offers these suggestions:

  • Improve vaccination programs for elderly patients.
  • Develop new pneumonia vaccines that are more effective for aging seniors and those with other chronic medical conditions.
  • Avoid or better manage other chronic health problems, like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.

That last point is included because many of the senior citizens in the study didn't only have pneumonia. Heart disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes had all increased in elderly patients since the late 1980s, the study shows.

Being in better general health might help elders handle pneumonia, the researchers note.

Better pneumonia vaccines would also help, write Fry and colleagues. They state that the effectiveness of current vaccines "decreases with increasing age" and in patients with other illnesses.

About the Study

The researchers only studied people aged 65 and older. Their numbers came from a database of about 500 U.S. hospitals, not counting those in the Veterans Administration.

Pneumonia hospitalizations weren't up for the oldest old (people 85 and older). Instead, the increases were seen in two younger age groups: adults 65-74 and 75-84.

Data included people hospitalized because of pneumonia and those hospitalized for other reasons who also had pneumonia.

Second Opinion

An editorial in the same journal supports Fry's call for better pneumonia vaccines and concern about chronic health problems worsening pneumonia risk.

The editorial notes that several risk factors linked to pneumonia are known, such as history of heart failure, diabetes, or lung disease. However, they also point out that science hasn't shown that better management of these conditions -- such as more tightly controlling blood sugar -- would better protect against pneumonia.

Still, the editorialists make one clear, solid recommendation: If you smoke, quit.

"Counseling patients to quit smoking and providing them with material to assist with smoking cessation are essential," they write.

The editorialists included Thomas File Jr., MD. He works in the infectious disease section of the internal medicine department of Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

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