COPD Care: Is There a Cure for COPD in the Elderly?

Written by Joe Newman04/12/19


Complex Care
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for COPD. However, there are several treatment options available that can help ease symptoms, lessen the possibility of further complications and improve the quality of life of those with the disease. Here, we take a look at some of the different treatments available to help manage COPD. Usually, this will involve medication, the use of additional oxygen supplies or, in some cases, surgery.

Understanding the options for COPD care is vital because if left untreated, there is a risk of the disease progressing faster than it otherwise would, creating other respiratory infections or even heart problems.

Symptoms of COPD

Early symptoms of COPD are often mild and could even be mistaken for a cold. Shortness of breath, a cough that doesn’t go away and the need to clear the throat regularly may all be early signs which should be investigated. If symptoms are left untreated, they may worsen over time and increase to include wheezing, tightness in the chest area and an excessive build-up of mucus that leads to increased coughing and even difficulty breathing.

Often, you may notice people with COPD adjusting their lifestyles bit by bit as they try to cope with the difficulty they experience catching their breath. For example, they may reduce their level of physical activity and start opting for lifts instead of taking the stairs as everyday tasks start to become more challenging.

In the later stages of COPD, sufferers may also experience fatigue, weight loss and swelling in their feet, ankles or legs.

How is COPD diagnosed?

If you have a loved one who you think may have COPD, or who is showing early signs of the disease, an early diagnosis is essential so that you can get the treatment they need and an ongoing care plan in place. Speak to a medical professional. Usually, a simple range of blood and lung-function tests is all that is required to identify the disease.

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 options

Although there is no cure for COPD, with treatment, it may be possible to mitigate the effects of the disease partially. Medication can help to improve symptoms and the overall function of the lungs and, in some cases, can help to slow the progression of the disease. In smokers, stopping smoking is likely to have the single most significant impact on improving health. It won’t reverse the damage already done, but it will certainly help to prevent it from becoming worse.

As with many other diseases, treatment is often dependent on the stage and the personal circumstances of the individual. However, options include:


It is common for anybody experiencing breathing difficulties to be prescribed an inhaler which delivers medication directly to the lungs. There are different types of inhalers used in COPD care. Short-acting bronchodilator inhalers help to relax and widen airways to make breathing easier and can be used when needed up to four times a day. Long-acting versions work similarly, but their effect lasts for up to twelve hours, so they need only be administered once or twice a day.

If these inhalers are not sufficient enough, a steroid inhaler may be prescribed to help further reduce inflammation in the airways.


Medication may also take the form of tablets or capsules to treat different symptoms associated with the disease. These can help to relax the airways similarly to inhalers and dilute phlegm in the throat, making it easier to cough up. Short courses of steroid tablets may also be given to deal with particularly bad flare-ups, and antibiotics may sometimes be used to combat infections.

As with most types of medication, there is always the possibility of side-effects, and if you have a loved one requiring such treatment, you will want to ensure they are being looked after by experts in elderly care.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

This is a programme of exercise and education designed to make life for those living with lung problems easier. It includes tailored exercise programmes, education and dietary advice as well as psychological and emotional support. Such programmes offer support to patients, their carers and their families.

Oxygen therapy

Sometimes, additional oxygen may be required. Depending on how much oxygen is in the blood, this could be just for periods of exercise, sleep or continuously. Of course, depending on the level of additional care your loved one requires, should their health dictate it, you may wish to consider what private care options are available. These may include home care or live-in care support to help you and your loved one maintain a higher quality of life.

Additionally, if they require dementia care, this should also be explored to ensure they receive the treatment and care they need.


The option to have surgery is usually only suitable for a small number of those with COPD.

Keeping up to date with vaccinations such as the flu jab and pneumococcal vaccine is vital as contracting either infection could have serious health implications for older people, particularly those already experiencing respiratory problems.

While there is no cure for COPD, finding out the best ways to help your loved one or relative manage the condition can help them lead a healthy and active life.


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Take a look at more Elder guides on how to support those living with complex conditions below. 

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