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COPD Care: What Causes COPD in the Elderly?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a condition that causes inflammation to the lungs and airways, making it difficult to breathe. The causes of COPD is usually due to exposure to harmful substances, such as cigarette smoke. Maintaining the condition through understanding the signs and symptons can help those living with the disease lead fulfilling lives.

What is COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term referring to several different conditions that cause damage to the lungs. Two of the most prominent conditions are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is where the alveoli (small air sacs) within the lungs are damaged, while chronic bronchitis is when the airways experience long term inflammation. Symptoms of COPD tend to emerge once a person reaches their 40s or 50s. In older people, there may be a need for elderly care to help with managing the conditon.

Symptoms

The different conditions that fall under the umbrella of COPD have similar symptoms. Frequent breathlessness, coughing and wheezing are common symptoms, and the cough will often be chesty and produce significant phlegm. In the long-term, COPD can also increase the risk of developing other conditions such as lung cancer or heart disease.

Causes

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Figures show as many as nine cases in every ten are due to smoking because of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. Smoking pipes or cigars and passive smoking can also be significant factors. Stopping smoking is one of the best ways to slow the process of COPD.

A common cause for non-smokers who develop COPD is occupational exposure to harmful chemicals. If your loved one has worked in an environment with dust or fumes from cadmium, silica, coal, isocyanates or even grain or flour, they are at increased risk of COPD. High-risk occupations include agriculture, brick-making, mining and construction.

Another factor that influences the development of COPD is air pollution, both inside and outside the home. In a poorly ventilated house, the burning of fuels such as coal and wood can pollute the air inside and cause damage to the lungs.

There is also a genetic component to the development of COPD. One of the substances that protects your lungs is called alpha-1-antitrypsin. The genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is found in about 1 in 100 cases of COPD.

The impact of these causes can be high in someone who already has a condition affecting their lungs. For example, those who experienced childhood asthma may be at an increased risk of COPD.

Colin and Dulcie’s story

Dulcie is 102-years-old and lives with her son Colin, his wife Mary, and her Carer Sarah. She has dementia and has had full-time live-in care for over two years.

We talk to the family about the challenges of finding the right care solution for a fiercely independent woman - and how the positive benefits of live-in care with Sarah has transformed all of their lives.

Treatment and Living with COPD

There is no cure for COPD. It is possible, however, to manage the condition by treating the symptoms. Tablets and inhalers are available to help ease breathing. Another treatment option is pulmonary rehabilitation programmes; these include everything from education to exercise. In a small number of severe cases, a lung transplant may be necessary.

If your loved one or relative is living with COPD, they should receive their annual flu jab, as they are considered a higher risk category. The one-off pneumococcal vaccine is also important. General lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy eating are highly important too.

Extra consideration should be taken if your loved one is planning a holiday as COPD can be aggravated by different climates and may also affect their ability to fly. Should your loved one be limited to the time they can spend outside their home, it might be handy having a carer who can provide 24-hour care to help prevent feelings of isolation.

Prevention

Some steps can be taken to reduce the chances of developing COPD. Most of the causes of COPD are primarily external. If your loved one does not smoke, avoids polluted areas, and does not have any genetic health implications, their lungs have a higher chance of being protected.

If COPD continues to progress, more support may be needed, and you may need to look for private care for your loved one. Live-in care offers friendly and comprehensive support and may be beneficial for your elderly relative living with COPD.

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