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Asthma and the Elderly

Posted in General Health 18 Jun, 2015

Asthma is a condition that you wouldn't wish on anyone. An attack can be frightening, painful and potentially fatal, and the symptoms can cause a great deal of disruption to a person's life.

It is estimated that 5 million Brits have asthma. Although anyone can develop the condition, elderly people are particularly vulnerable to the symptoms. Why is this?

Before We Start - What is Asthma?

'Asthma' is taken from the Ancient Greek term 'aazein' which means to pant with an open mouth. Asthma has been with us for thousands of years and we still can't cure it. In basic terms asthma is when your airways are sensitive to allergens, and become inflamed. During an attack your airway muscles tighten and narrow. This makes it hard to get air in and out of your lungs.

What Are The Symptoms of Asthma in the Elderly?

Struggling for breath is the main symptom. Those who already have asthma may notice these changes as they age.

  • medicines don't work properly
  • an increase in symptoms
  • a decrease in symptoms
  • some symptoms are more pronounced than before
  • side effects of medicines are worse
  • new asthma triggers

Late onset asthma may affect the elderly for the first time in their lives. This is fairly common and often comes as a shock.

Why Are The Elderly Susceptible?

  • Lack of mobility can be a problem. If an older person can't get to their medication quickly, perhaps they have mobility problems; an attack can get out of hand.
  • They are less likely to make a fuss. The Dunkirk spirit is well and truly alive in our older generation. They don't like to impose on the doctors and may play down worsening symptoms.
  • Retiring or moving home can expose vulnerable folk to new allergens.
  • Asthma can worsen colds and flu, which the elderly are susceptible to.
  • Older people may put shortness of breath down to getting older or being less fit, especially if symptoms creep in rather than a full-blown attack from the offset.

How To Deal With it

If you have an elderly relative with asthma make sure they are not getting worse by taking them to their doctor's appointments. Here are some more suggestions.

  • If mobility is an issue, keep an inhaler in each room - preferably in a pocket.
  • Write up an asthma action plan with their GP or nurse and stick to it.
  • Report any worsening symptoms - remember asthma can and does kill.
  • Make sure inhalers are used properly.
  • Be aware that if they come down with a cold or flu, asthma may worsen. Consider the flu jab, as it's free for older people and those with asthma.

Because asthma is common it's easy to dismiss it like we do with colds, man-flu and hay-fever, but we really should take it seriously; asthma is a life-threatening condition. So now you know, do take care of your elderly relatives and make sure they get the treatment they need.

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