COPD Symptoms in Older Adults to Keep an Eye out For

Copd symptoms in older adults

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects 16 million Americans, and it’s one of the top 10 causes of death.

There is no cure for COPD, but there are helpful treatments. The vast majority of people who die from COPD are over 64.

COPD should not go untreated. Keep an eye out for these COPD symptoms in older adults. If you suspect COPD, get your loved one the care he needs.

What Is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a breathing disorder. It’s characterized by an inflammatory condition of the lungs. The airways become narrow, limiting airflow and making it difficult to breathe.

COPD occurs with chronic obstructive bronchitis, emphysema or both. The inflammation is a response to toxins, often cigarette smoking. Toxins in burning fuels can also cause COPD.


The air sacs that make up the lungs are the alveoli. Destruction of the alveolar walls that support the alveoli is emphysema. The disease causes a reduction of surface area on the lungs. This leads to reduced oxygen in the bloodstream.

Chronic Bronchitis

A chronic, sputum-producing cough for two years is chronic bronchitis. It’s classified as COPD when it causes airflow obstruction.

Causes of COPD

The number one cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, although only about 15% of smokers develop the disease. But only between 10-20% of people with COPD are non-smokers.

Someone susceptible to the disease loses lung function as they age. This happens at a higher rate than susceptible people who don’t smoke. The development of the disease is delayed if a person quits smoking.

Repeated exposure to indoor cooking fires, heavy dust, or chemical fumes can also cause COPD.

In rare cases, a hereditary condition causes COPD. This condition is alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency.

COPD Symptoms in Older Adults

COPD progresses at a slow rate. But look for these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A chronic cough
  • Sputum production
  • Unable to keep up with usual activities
  • Chest tightness and wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

Shortness of breath is a sign of COPD. Unfortunately, many older adults blame shortness of breath on aging or lack of fitness.

If your loved one has shortness of breath and chronic cough with clear sputum, that could be a sign of COPD.

The lungs are amazing and even with a 50% loss of lung function, a person can breathe. This makes it easy for people to shrug off symptoms, especially in the early stages.

Is your loved one winded after getting dressed or showering? That’s another possible sign. If the disease progresses, he could eventually need a skilled nursing facility.

Review the above symptoms. If an older adult you know has any of these symptoms, get them checked by a doctor.

Diagnosing COPD

COPD symptoms in older adults may sometimes seem like aging. But it’s important to get them checked. A doctor will test your loved one with a simple breathing test called a spirometry test.

Although not completely reversible, COPD is treatable and partially reversible. Seniors with diagnosed COPD can have some symptom relief. They can slow the progression of the disease and improve their exercise tolerance and health status.

If you suspect a loved one has COPD, get him to the doctor right away. Does your loved one need help with pulmonary care? Contact us today for a visit.


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