Recovery in Pneumonia Elderly?

by Kathy
(Houston, Texas, USA)

Nine years ago my mother was due to be released the following day from routine knee replacement. She contracted pneumonia overnight and was not released. She never recovered and died within 2 weeks at age 76.

My mother-in-law (age 87) lives at home w/ 24/7 home care. She gets up daily & sits in a recliner w/ little daily mobility; sometimes taken for a ride or walk in her wheelchair. She's was hospitalized tonight and diagnosed w/ pneumonia elderly.

My initial thought is that she won't recover (due to her age, being in hospital and past experience of an elder contracting pneumonia).

Is there good reason I should be optimistic that she might recover?

I am concerned that she at least might have to go into a nursing home, something her children have discussed but are ultimately avoiding this big and permanent move for her.

REPLY from
That is a difficult situation; and one close to your heart. Your mother-in-law certainly does have the chance to recover to her previous level of functioning. Her age and risk factors, though, may put her at higher risk of the pneumonia being fatal.

To improve her recovery, you may request the following as part of her care in hospital:

  • Get her out of bed: Ask staff to get her up into a chair. If she is walking, encourage her to walk to the bathroom instead of using a bedpan or commode. Encourage her to do any daily activities she used to do such as walking to the sink or sitting at the sink to wash her face or brush her teeth. Being in an upright posture will allow your mother-in-law's lungs to expand more easily and make it easier to cough and clear her lungs.
  • You can also ask staff about getting an incentive spirometer and encourage your mother-in-law to use it. It's a device that encourages deep breathing.
  • Respiratory treatment is often recommended but her physician will recommend this if appropriate (may include oxygen).
  • Usually suppression of coughing is not recommended. It is usually better for the person to have the opportunity to clear their lungs.

If she does recover, even if it is to a lesser degree, coming home may still be an option because your family has 24/7 care in place.

The main impacting factor is if her mobility and transfers have become much more difficult and whether the family/staff that work with her have the ability to assist her. If transfers become impossible to do safely, often an overhead lift or two-post lift system can be purchased or rented for transfers with a sling.

Care and sponge baths can often be provided in bed and there are options for getting a person with limited mobility into the bathtub or you could consider community baths. Physical activity of some sort is highly recommended for preventing recurrence of pneumonia.

I also encourage you to connect with your mother-in-law's elderly elderly health care professionals (nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc) and ask questions.

Thank you for your question; I hope the very best for your mother-in-law.

Please see the section on Pneumonia Elderly for more information and for ways to decrease risk of Pneumonia (in the future).

Thank you,

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