COPD In Seniors; Symptoms, Risks, And Treatments

COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a collection of lung diseases that cause blocked airways and make breathing difficult. It can result in serious complications. This is especially true in senior citizens who have frail immune systems.

Seniors with COPD are more likely to develop pneumonia which increases the risk for respiratory failure.  Left untreated, this combination can be fatal.

Senior citizens with these symptoms should seek medical help: These symptoms include:

  • chills
  • shaking
  • increased chest pain
  • high fever
  • headaches and body aches





COPD: Aging And Respiratory Function

The respiratory system ages as you do, and these functions gradually decline over time. Similar to the other muscles in your body, the muscles that support your breathing become weaker. The weakening of these muscles can prevent you from inhaling and exhaling enough air. As a result, you may start breathing more shallowly to compensate, especially if you’re ill or in pain. Your lungs also become stiffer as you get older, causing them to expand and contract less easily. This can make it even more difficult to breathe. Additionally, certain changes occur in the nervous system that make coughing less effective. When you can’t clear the mucus from your lungs through coughing, large amount of particles can accumulate in the airways.

These age related changes create problems with breathing, such as constant coughing and wheezing. These come about due to the following:

  • The lungs, airways, and air sacs lose their elasticity.
  • The walls between the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways thicken and become swollen.
  • The airways make more mucus than normal, which can clog airways.

Once the COPD progresses symptoms become worse. For example, it can lead to difficulty talking, lack of mental alertness, and very fast heartbeat.


COPD: Treatments

There is no cure for COPD. The most often used treatments that offer various levels of relief are:

  • bronchodilators
  • corticosteroids
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • opioids

Options 2, 3, and 4 can only be used on a short-term basis and they have serious side affects.

Lifestyle changes are also very important and can provide relief. Here are several recommendations:

  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding secondhand smoke
  • eating a diet of mostly natural foods, such as vegetables and fruits
  • taking vitamin and mineral supplements
  • doing low- to moderate-intensity exercise at least three times per week

In certain severe cases, oxygen therapy or surgery may be needed.

In a previous blog on COPD, we pointed out another treatment that has been effective. It is a breathing exercise called the “Huff Cough” . The Huff Cough clears mucus from the air passages, expands the lungs, and makes breathing easier. It’s a 5-step process:

  • Sit upright
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Bend arms
  • Raise elbows and hold your breath
  • Exhale forcefully



The skilled nursing staff in our Respiratory Center at our Silver Health Care facility provide comprehensive therapies, treatment protocols and compassionate support to our patients suffering from COPD.

Call us to arrange a tour of our facility.

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