Why Seniors are More at Risk for COPD | Senior Health

Senior Health

Why Seniors are More at Risk for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, is the most common chronic lung disease among seniors. Seniors are more at risk of having COPD than younger people because aging may mean more lung damage and exposure to risk factors. It is also likely that cells do not repair themselves as quickly and easily as the body ages.  

COPD is the third leading cause of death by disease in the United States. It affects more than 11 million individuals and millions more may have the disease without even knowing it. Typically, those who are diagnosed with COPD are between age 65 and 74. At this time there is no cure, and the number of people who have a serious long-term disability or die from COPD is growing.1


Early detection of COPD may change its course and progress, so it’s important to be aware of the risk factors and early warning signs. You may think you are short of breath or unable to take part in normal activities because you are “just getting older.” But you shouldn’t ignore the early warning signs!


Read through the risk factors and symptoms below for more information about COPD and to learn when to talk to your doctor.


Risk Factors of COPD
There are many risk factors for developing COPD. These include2:

  • People who smoke. Long-term smoking is the main cause of COPD, especially for seniors. The more years you smoke and the more packs of cigarettes you smoke, the greater your risk of developing COPD. Pipe, cigar and marijuana smokers may also be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
  • People with asthma who smoke. The combination of asthma and smoking increases the risk of COPD even more.
  • Exposure to air toxins at work. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dust at work can irritate, inflame, and damage your lungs.
  • Exposure to air toxins at home. People exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes for a long period of time are at higher risk.
  • COPD develops slowly over years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin.
  • The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD.


Symptoms of COPD
COPD can progress for years without showing signs. Symptoms often don’t appear until serious lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time.


Symptoms of COPD can be different for every person, but they often include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, increased breathlessness and tightness in the chest. If you have any of these symptoms, we suggest you take the 30-second Lung Health Test3 (see below) to screen for COPD.

  • Do you cough regularly?
  • Do you cough up mucus regularly?
  • Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  • Do you wheeze when you exert yourself (exercise, go up stairs, etc.)?
  • Do you get many colds, and do your colds usually last longer than others’ colds?


If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may have symptoms of COPD. See your doctor to find out what is causing your symptoms.


Diagnosing COPD in Seniors
It’s easy to think of shortness of breath and coughing as a normal part of aging, but these could be signs of COPD. It’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms.


Only your doctor can diagnose COPD after an exam and a simple lung function test. For the lung function test, you will be asked to blow – as long and hard as you can – into a small tube attached to a machine. The machine will measure how long it takes you to blow out all the air from your lungs. The more blocked your airways, the longer it takes to blow the air out.


The doctor will discuss your results with you after the lung function test.


Self-Care is Important for Seniors with COPD
If you think you may be at risk for COPD or need help managing this chronic condition, Gateway Health can provide you with the tools and support you need to take control of your health.


The Gateway to Lifestyle Management (GTLM) program is designed to partner with our Medicare Assured members who have chronic conditions like COPD. Visit GatewayHealthPlan.com to learn more about the program.

  1. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/learn-about-copd/how-serious-is-copd.html
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679
  3. https://www.livingwellwithcopd.com/en/what-is-copd.html


Now Reading: Why Seniors are More at Risk for COPD

3 min read