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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Older Adults

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the devastating diseases among the elderly people. The disease causes considerable mortality and morbidity among the older adults. Despite the fact that the disease can be prevented, managed, and even to some extend treatable, its occurrence continues to increase due to increase in smoking across the world and exposure to hazardous air conditions. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is linked with massive health care costs and especially in older adults due to their decreased or weaker immunity. The disease has universal outcomes and linked to some other co-morbid conditions – for instance muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Other common health complications associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) among the older adults include: - anxiety, malnutrition, and depression. These health conditions affect an individual’s quality of life and compliance to therapy. However, it is important to note that malnutrition in older adults diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an independent mortality forecaster and a sign of poor outcome (O'Neill, 2002).  This paper aims at describing the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, management, and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) among the older adults.  

Risk factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a prevalent disease or condition among the older adults. According to Yoost and Crawford (2014) “age and smoking are the two major risk factors for COPD, which is a group of diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and a subset of asthma characterized by chronic airflow obstruction” (p. 279). However, it is important to note that smoking is not the not the only predisposing risk factor for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Other individuals prone to developing the condition at a later stage in their lives are those with a history of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, obese, asthma, and those with persistent airway obstruction infections. Equally people working in hazardous environments (air polluted with noxious vapors, dusts, and gases) and those living with people who smoke are at a great risk of developing the condition.

Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in older adults

In most cases, signs or symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) infection show up to people aged 50 years and above. However, people young than 50 years can show signs of this condition. Some of the common symptoms of COPD are: - wheezing, recurrent chest infection and especially during cold weathers, persistent coughing and especially in the morning and increased breathlessness and especially when walking or when exercising. The difficult to breath for those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a result of narrowed and inflamed lung airways. As such, when the air sacs continue to get damaged, breathing out continues to get difficult. This is why it is important for people who experience signs or symptoms of the condition are advised to seek diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment immediately to reduce further lung damages. Other less common signs or symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are: - swollen ankles, fatigue, tiredness, and weight loss. It is important to note that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) symptoms or signs are mostly worse during the winter (Lotvall and Busse, 2011).

Diagnosis for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Older Adults

Any person aged above 40 years who shows signs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) should be diagnosed for the condition. Typical symptoms or signs of this condition in older adults as previously outlined in this paper are: - chest tightness, persistent coughing, breathlessness, wheezing, recurrent chest infections, production of sputum and especially during the morning hours, and reduced exercise ability. It is worth to note that other health conditions may depict similar symptoms to those of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This implies that a medical examination is the only sure approach to diagnose the condition. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be diagnosed by practice nurses, a hospital doctors or by GPs. The breathing tests and the test X-ray are used to diagnose the condition (Hanania and Sharafkhaneh, 2011).

The breathing tests also referred to as the spirometry are done to a patient in order to determine the presence of COPD or exclude its presence. The machine used to perform the breathing tests is known as spirometer. The breathing tests can “… be performed in many GP surgeries, specialized lung laboratories, hospital wards, or out-patient clinics” (Currie, 2009 p. 16). During the test, the medic professional requests the “… to take a full breath inwards, and then blow out as hard and as fast as possible, for as long as possible, into a plastic tube attached to a  recording device” (Currie, 2009 p.16). This practice or procedure for that case is repeated a number of times until a number of recordings with similar result or values are obtained. Through evaluating the results obtained from these tests and making a comparison with known findings of healthy persons, it is possible to determine whether the person being tested has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or not. The breathing tests can also be used to determine the level of lung damage caused by the condition. The lung damage caused is classified as severe, moderate, or mild. This is important in order to device the most appropriate treatment approach.

Management and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in older adults

Although Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not curable, it can be managed and especially when diagnosed early. Ceasing smoking is one of the behavioral changes an older adult who smoke can adapt to manage the condition. Continuing smoking after being diagnosed with this condition serves to increase further lung damage up to a level that the condition cannot be managed. As such, early diagnosis is important in order to prevent further lung damage. The condition can also be treated and managed through pneumococcal and influenza vaccination, by using short and long acting bronchodilators, and use of corticosteroid inhalers. In most cases, a combination of therapies is required to treat and manage the condition in older people. It is important to note older adults, and most likely those in severe conditions have insufficient aspiratory force and hence some inhalers cannot work for them (Bourbeau, Nault and Borycki, 2002).  Other available treatment and management option for the condition include oxygen therapy, osteopenia and depression screening, and pulmonary rehabilitation. Care takers looking after older adults with severe COPD exacerbation ought to safeguard them against prognostic negativity (Nici and ZuWallack, 2012).  

Although Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is linked with disability in older adults, there are a range of treatment interventions available to assist the patient. This is especially when the condition is detected early. As such, it is advisable to seek doctor’s advice or diagnosis for that case in case of any sign or symptom.









Bourbeau, J., Nault, D., & Borycki, E. (2002). Comprehensive management of chronic      obstructive pulmonary disease. Hamilton, Ont: BC Decker.

Currie, G. P. (2009). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Hanania, N. A., & Sharafkhaneh, A. (2011). COPD: A guide to diagnosis and clinical       management. New York: Humana Press.

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Lotvall, J., & Busse, W. W. (2011). Advances in combination therapy for asthma and COPD.       Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Nici, L., & ZuWallack, R. L. (2012). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Co-morbidities         and systemic consequences. New York: Humana Press.

O'Neill, P. A. (2002). Caring for the older adult: A health promotion perspective. Philadelphia:      W.B. Saunders.

Yoost, B. L., & Crawford, L. R. (2014). Fundamentals of Nursing: Active Learning for     Collaborative Practice. New York, NY: Elsevier Health Science.