Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, most always shortened to COPD, affects millions of Americans, and is more common in older adults. Research has shown that approximately ten percent of Americans aged 75 or older are currently living with COPD, but the actual percentage may be much higher as many cases of COPD go undiagnosed. COPD is a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time, and it is one for which there is currently no cure. Fortunately, there are treatments available to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is not in itself one disease, rather one that presents as a combination of conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is a damaging or destruction of the small air sacs in the lungs called alveoli, which reduces the ability of the lungs to push air in and out. This will contribute to shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis is an irritation and inflammation of the airways, which will produce more mucus. This inflammation and mucus buildup can block the airflow of the lungs, which will make it harder to breathe. The symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, difficulty taking deep breaths, increased mucus production, and prolonged coughing or wheezing.
Smoking is a major risk factor for COPD, but other conditions such as genetics, infections, and exposure to pollutants or irritants can play a role. COPD may increase fall risk and interfere with a senior’s ability to complete daily tasks, and difficulty breathing can take a toll on their strength and stamina.