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What Causes Pneumonia in the Elderly?



Several conditions that are common to the elderly increase the risk of contracting pneumonia including lung and heart disease, swallowing problems, and stroke. An impaired immune system as well as negative drug interactions also increase the risk for contracting pneumonia. [Schiffman, MD, FCCP,]

Low Zinc Status Risk Factor for Pneumonia in the Elderly

A zinc deficiency, which is common in the elderly, may play a role in susceptibility to pneumonia. According to researchers at the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, a zinc deficiency decreases immune function and resistance to pathogens. A low zinc level has been linked with an increased incidence and duration of pneumonia as well as increased mortality from pneumonia in the elderly. [Barnett, JB, Nutrition Reviews]

Senescent Cells Could Play a Role in Pneumonia

Scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio uncovered a scientific explanation as to why aging has an increased risk for contracting pneumonia. The problem seems to lie with senescent cells. The cells in the lungs will age with time and will divide many times before dying out. Senescent cells are cells that have essentially died, that is have lost the ability to divide, but remain metabolically active. These cells, as well as the healthy cells that surround them, are prime targets for invasion by pneumonia-causing bacteria, making them up to 5-15 times more susceptible to the bacteria. [Aging, obsolete cells prime the lungs for pneumonia.” The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio]

Pneumonia Elderly Statistics

The most common cause of pneumonia, as well as the most serious, is the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). [“Pneumonia”, National Library of Medicine] When considering vaccine-preventable diseases, pneumococcal disease kills more people in the US annually than all other combined. Fortunately, 67% of American adults 65 and older were immunized with the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV). [“Prevalence and Trends Data: Nationwide (States and DC) – 2008-Immunization” Centers for Disease Control]
PPV is effective in up to 80% of adults over 65 that are not in high risk groups. In most cases, the vaccine is only necessary one time. [“Ask the Experts about Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV)”, Centers for Disease Control]]



Schiffman, MD, FCCP , George

Nutrition Reviews
“Low zinc status: a new risk factor for pneumonia in the elderly?.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
“HSC NEWS – Aging, obsolete cells prime the lungs for pneumonia”

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