One complication unique to senior care is the slow and steady way ailments manifest. Many of the more serious chronic conditions can be difficult to detect - and, by extension, treat - until years after they've developed. One such condition is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This pulmonary-respiratory condition poses a major health risk to seniors, but can be difficult to identify in some cases. Here's some important information to help caregivers better understand COPD effects and treatment.
COPD slowly damages the lungs over time. Also known as emphysema, COPD affects people by obstructing the airways that facilitate respiration, making it gradually more difficult to breathe. According to the National Institute on Aging, COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., with roughly 120,000 COPD-related deaths every year. The condition is particularly dangerous for seniors because of its slow development - often symptoms are minor enough at the outset of the disease to go unnoticed. However, early detection and treatment are essential, as there is currently no cure for COPD and the damage it does to lungs is irreversible.
Treatment options for COPD are somewhat limited. According to the NIA, the most common medications used to mitigate COPD symptoms are bronchodilators. Drugs of this type work by relaxing the airways, somewhat mitigating the effects of the disease. The source noted that more severe cases can be treated with steroids, similar to those found in inhalers used by asthma patients.
The New York Times reported on a recent study from Ontario, Canada, which looked at effects of common COPD medications on senior patients. The study inspected the medications commonly prescribed to treat the ailment, including at which stages of the disease various drugs were prescribed. The goal was to determine if standard treatment plans for COPD are as effective for seniors as possible. Researchers found that when beta agonists - a common class of drug prescribed for less advanced cases of COPD - were used to begin treatment, results were not as favorable as instances where patients were prescribed beta agonists alongside steroids as well. In fact, patients taking both types of medication from the outset had a hospitalization and mortality rate 8 percent lower than those seniors who only took one type of medication.
Preventing and living with COPD
While there are medications commonly used to treat COPD, much of the disease's treatment derives from lifestyle choices. According to the NIA, treatment goals for COPD patients include slowing the disease's progression and maintaining quality of life and activity levels as much as possible. To this end, the most important lifestyle change emphasized by the source was to stop smoking. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of COPD-related deaths are attributed to smoking, which is the No. 1 cause of the disease.
As with many other chronic health conditions, maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise is important to managing the condition. The Mayo Clinic noted that the symptoms of COPD - specifically, the progression of breathing difficulties - may make exercise a tenuous prospect. However, physical activity can actually help slow the progression of the disease and make breathing easier. Good nutrition is also important. Healthline indicated that many COPD patients find it difficult to eat properly. To combat this, the source recommended eating several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than fewer large meals. Additionally, some doctors may suggest dietary supplements if nutrition becomes a concern.