On May 1, we celebrated World Asthma Day. This annual event, organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma, aims to improve asthma awareness and care on a global basis.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on aging, over two million Americans age 65 and older have asthma, and because the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that the senior age group is the fastest-growing population segment in the nation, that makes this a significant group.
Asthma is a disease that can affect people of all ages—and many people exhibit their first symptoms during childhood or puberty—but it is a different condition for older adults. Many adults start experiencing asthma symptoms as late as their 70s or 80s, and while the symptoms themselves are the same, their effects are not.
Here are just a few examples of how asthma can affect the elderly differently than younger individuals:
- Older adults are more likely to develop respiratory failure as a result of asthma attacks;
- Older adults with mild asthma can experience the same level of breathing difficulty as younger individuals with severe symptoms;
- Asthma in older patients is often difficult to diagnose, because it is often mistaken for other health conditions with similar symptoms (such as chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure, or smoking-induced emphysema or heart disease), and
- Treatment in older adults can be difficult, because these individuals are more likely to be taking medications for other conditions, which can react badly with asthma and asthma medication. In addition, one of the most common forms of treatment is the L-shaped inhaler, which can be difficult to operate at an older age or with lesser coordination.
Nursing homes and other healthcare facilities with a significant population of older adults and senior citizens should include asthma-specific measures in their treatment plans, to help their staff be better at treating it and to help their residents.
- Cleaning. A lack of fresh air and the presence of dust or allergens in the air can exacerbate existing symptoms. Facilities should ensure that their spaces are kept tidy and that there is a constant stream of fresh air being let in (though this may need adjusting during allergy season).
- Education. As mentioned above, this condition is frequently missed or misdiagnosed in older adults, which can lead to very dangerous results. Asthma can be diagnosed through an asthma-specific exam, which will prevent improper diagnosis. This exam should be performed alongside existing health exams. In addition, facility staff should be given education on asthma, its symptoms, and how it can be treated. Patients can also receive education in order to help them to better understand it and how to manage it.
- Treatment. Treating asthma in older patients is not the same as treating a child or even a young adult. All patients who suffer from asthma symptoms should have a specific asthma treatment plan, and their medications and other treatments should be carefully monitored to prevent adverse reactions.
About Caitlin Morgan
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.