Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Asthma Over 60: Know Your Risks and Take Steps to Minimize Them

Over 60

by Robert Sobkowiak, RRT, AE-C

If you are an asthma patient who’s over the age of 60, the winter season is a good time to reflect on and take inventory of the health care risks and challenges posed by your asthma. These include weather changes, travel, and everyday stress. Luckily, there are many opportunities for you to minimize those risks. But first you need to understand what they are and how you may be affected by them.

Baby boomer asthma picture

Current demographics reveal that as more than 78 million boomers enter their 60s, mortality rates and other health issues are increasing, especially for those with asthma. Recent studies from the May 2012 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology revealed that the death rate attributed to asthma for those aged 65 and older is an astonishing 14 times higher than that seen in younger patients.

The research study shows asthma is often misdiagnosed and under-treated, with only 53% of boomers using prescribed inhalers. Other health risks, including increasing allergy sensitivity, decreased lung function, and significantly poorer quality of life, were found in this sample population of baby boomers with asthma as well.

Lead study author, allergist Andrew Smith, MD, stated, “Asthma is a complex disease that, when left untreated, can be life-threatening. It is alarming that such a large percentage of older people with asthma are letting their disease go untreated, especially since this can lead to other health problems.”

Specific findings

Review and analysis was conducted on 77 patients over the age of 60 who did and did not have asthma. It was found that 89% of patients with asthma also had allergies to mold, animals, and/or dust mites. Poor general health, increased body pain, and worse overall physical health were also seen in asthma sufferers compared to those without the disease.

Others in the Asthma UK point out that triggers associated specifically with adult-onset asthma symptoms include flu, colds, other viral infections, exercise, laughing or getting excited, depression or anxiety, some medicines, and irritants such as cigarette smoke, cold air, perfumes, and chemical fumes.

Steps to consider to minimize risks

There are a number of actions that can help minimize risks and improve clinical, financial, and quality of life outcomes for older people with asthma. They include:

  • Correct diagnosis: Many patients with asthma may attribute their symptoms to a cold, flu, or chronic respiratory condition such as chronic bronchitis. Spirometry, as well as allergy testing, may be helpful in making the correct diagnosis in this situation.
  • Peak flow monitoring: Ask your health care providers whether you should have a peak flow monitor to assess your asthma at home. This will alert you to subtle changes that could lead to bigger problems.
  • Asthma Action Plan: All patients should have and understand a written action plan, and their health care providers should monitor that plan on a regular basis to see if changes are in order.
  • Proper medication: Work with your health care providers to ensure you understand how to take your medications. Make sure to adhere to your medication dosing as well. If you have trouble affording your medications, ask your health care providers to put you in touch with a medication assistance program.
  • Environmental risk reduction: Your health care providers can help you assess your environment and eliminate triggers that make your asthma worse.
  • Effective management of comorbid conditions: Many older people have more than one chronic condition. If that’s you, be sure all of your health care providers are aware of all of your conditions so they can work together to come up with the best plan for managing them.

The good news

Asthma patients who follow the advice of their health care providers can greatly minimize the impact of asthma on their health and their lives. Studies show improved outcomes with care and treatment of an allergist/asthma management team include:

  • 54–76% reduction in emergency room visits.
  • 60–89% reduction in hospitalizations.
  • 77% reduction in lost time from work or school.
Robert Sobkowiak, RRT, AE-C, is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Florida, where he works as a respiratory therapist at Lee Memorial Hospital in Ft. Myers and serves as a member of the Lee Memorial Health System Care Transitions Intervention Team. He is also a member of the Florida Society for Respiratory Care Board of Directors and Florida Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Association, and currently serves as the Florida COPD Coalition coordinator.
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