Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the 4th leading cause of death in the US. It is often under diagnosed or misdiagnosed and it is a misconception that shortness of breath is due to aging. Therefore, symptoms are often ignored and healthcare providers may not ask the right questions.
For older adults, self-care is important. Preventive habits include: good hygiene such as frequent hand washing, maintaining scheduled vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia, avoiding crowds during winter and good nutrition with regular exercise.
Proper medical management is also crucial. The goal is to prevent and treat exacerbations which are often caused by respiratory tract infections and airway irritants. Flare-ups or exacerbations can be life threatening in the presence of severe COPD.
Older adults may have problems with physical coordination and/or may be cognitively impaired and unable to use a commonly prescribed metered dose inhaler to deliver medication. It is essential to ensure that inhalation device technique is correct and if necessary, a more "user friendly" device can be used to deliver medication if unable to correctly use a metered dose inhaler. It is crucial to ask your physician's office or pharmacist on the correct technique for using your device.
According to Dr. Scott Luchsinger, there is a perception that COPD is self-inflicted and that it is irreversible, however it is a partially reversible disease. He adds,"medical management can improve symptoms and often lung function." "Furthermore, if you smoke, smoking cessation slows the progression." He goes on to say that permanent damage to the lung is not reversed by smoking cessation, but lung function often improved within weeks of tobacco cessation. Loss of lung function will stop declining at a faster rate upon smoking cessation and may slow to that observed in non-smokers. Therefore, symptoms decrease and you live longer!
To help a loved one quit smoking contact the American Lung Association at www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUITNOW.
Scott Luchsinger, MD, FCCP, Pulmonary / Critical Care Specialist
Statcare Pulmonary Consultants
Written by our own Pam Reeves, LPN
Aging Life Care Associate