Coughing. Wheezing. Difficulty breathing. Tightening of the chest.
Asthma has long been considered an affliction of the young, as many people begin exhibiting symptoms as early as before grade school. But the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging reports that more than two million people 65 and over are asthma sufferers. As the elderly population continues to rise, so shall the number of cases. Many sufferers will be as seasoned as 70, 80, or more, and a good number of them will be experiencing asthma for the first time ever in their lives. So it’s important for us to know what asthma is, as well as what it is not – and how to live with it if it shows up.
There is also additional cause for concern for those of us with elderly parents. Advanced age can complicate asthma even further, because – as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) points out – older patients with mild asthma symptoms can have the same level of breathing difficulty as younger asthma patients experiencing a severe asthma episode. It can even lead to respiratory failure in seniors. Furthermore, unlike in younger people, asthma in elderly adults rarely ever goes into remission.
What exactly is asthma?
Medscape.com defines asthma as a chronic inflammatory disease that causes our airways to become hyper-responsive to stimuli, such as dust, smoke, or pollen. Much of this activity is the result of allergic reactions, however not all asthma symptoms evolve directly from allergies. A respiratory infection, a virus, and exercise can also bring about the disease.
Particularly in seniors, asthma may be initially misdiagnosed as something different, like chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), or even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), so it is important to make sure that your parent receives a thorough examination by a specialist if symptoms are present.
What are the symptoms, and who is at risk?
According to the Asthma Initiative of Michigan, a person may have asthma if they:
- Present with episodic wheeze, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or cough;
- Have recurrent coughing or wheezing episodes as the only symptom;
- Have asthma symptoms that vary throughout the day;
- Have symptoms that worsen at night, while exercising, or in the presence of airborne allergens or irritants;
- Present with allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis;
- Have relatives with asthma, allergy, sinusitis, or rhinitis;
- Have a physical exam which reveals:
- Hyperextension of the thorax;
- Wheezing, or prolonged or forced exhalation;
- Nasal secretions, sinusitis, rhinitis, or nasal polyps;
- Atopic dermatitis or eczema, or allergic skin problems.
Some medicines commonly used by seniors, such as aspirin, beta-blockers, hypertension and diabetes drugs can also trigger or worsen symptoms.
Remember that the absence of symptoms does not exclude the disease.
If your elderly loved one is diagnosed with asthma, education is your first line of defense. Ask their physician for a comprehensive asthma management plan that can help reduce the risk of flare-ups. An air cleaner in the home is also a great idea. If decreased cognitive abilities impair the plan steps from being followed, consider obtaining assistance to prevent the disease from impacting your parent’s life as much as possible.
There is so much to think about when entering the later stages of life. If you are considering elder care options, we at 805Aging can help. Our professional staff specializes in assisting you to choose the right kind of care for your loved one.
We conduct regular check-ins when you are unable to do so. 805Aging also provides oversight and detailed feedback to the family to keep your loved one safe and well-cared for day or night, weekday or weekend, holiday and every day.
We have the resources. We can hold your hand. We can guide you. Your peace of mind is our main goal, and is well assured. To find out more, call us at 805-750-4755 or visit our website and sign up for our monthly newsletter: www.805Aging.com.
There is no manual on how to take care of your parents as they age. They had a baby book when you were young. You have us. -Amy