The final week of October is Respiratory Care Week, which recognizes the vital work respiratory therapists do helping people of all ages breathe easier. While respiratory problems affect every age group, they’re most common among older people. In fact, according to research, 15% of middle-age or older Americans — nearly 1 in 7 — suffer from lung ailments like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. With these statistics in mind, family caregivers should have a better understanding of the common respiratory ailments affecting older Americans, learn how to watch for the warning signs of impending breathing problems, and know how to protect their family members’ remaining lung health.
Common Senior Respiratory Ailments
Many factors can negatively affect lung health — some are chronic, and some are acute. The most common include:
- Pneumonia: This disease infects the lung sacs, which may fill with fluid or pus. The result is a phlegmy cough that causes breathing difficulty.
- COPD: COPD is an umbrella term for several different lung diseases that cause worsening breathing problems.
- Asthma or bronchitis: Both conditions are associated with airway inflammation. However, different factors cause them.
Breathing problems are also associated with other diseases like:
- Lung cancer: Tumors in the chest cavity create less space for the lungs to expand, making breathing difficult.
- Heart failure: As the heart fails, it can’t keep up with blood flow. This condition causes fluid to invade the lungs, which results in breathing problems.
Whatever the cause, respiratory ailments are severe conditions that interfere and inhibit daily life.
Symptoms of Respiratory Difficulties
Over the long term, breathing difficulties can cause serious problems throughout the body, including:
- Chest tightness, feeling breathless or hungry for air.
- Fever, chills, or a headache.
- Muscle pain or lung pain.
- Sudden coughing spells.
- Shortness of breath during ordinary tasks.
- Sleep disruptions.
- Swollen legs, feet, and ankles.
In the worst cases, breathing difficulties can lead to death.
Warning Signs of Respiratory Problems
If you believe an older loved one might be at risk for developing breathing problems, there are signs you should watch out for.
- Chronic cough: If you’ve had a cough for more than a month, it’s considered chronic and could be an early sign of problems.
- Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath after little or no effort could mean there’s an underlying problem.
- Wheezing: Noisy breathing is a sign that something is blocking your airway.
- Coughing up blood: This could mean you’re bleeding from your lungs or upper respiratory tracts, which is a problematic warning sign.
- Chronic chest pain: Unexplained chest pain that lasts for a month or longer could be a sign that something is wrong.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you should share them with your doctor right away.
Protect Your Lungs
If you or a loved one suffer from respiratory problems, you should take extra steps to protect yourself. These include,
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoke causes lung inflammation and constricts the air passages making it more difficult to breathe. Even if you’re a life-long smoker, it’s never too late to quit.
- Avoid indoor air pollution: Second-hand smoke and certain chemicals make irritate the lungs, causing breathing difficulties.
- Minimize exposure to outdoor air pollution: Outdoor pollutants like smog and smoke can make breathing difficult for people with lung problems. Before you go outside, check the air quality index and stay indoors if air quality is poor.
- Exercise: Staying active can help keep your lungs healthy.
- Prevent infection: Conditions like the common cold, flu, and other communicable diseases can take a heavy toll on those with breathing disorders. So, wash your hands and avoid sick people.
Generations Home Care Can Help
Seniors suffering from breathing disorders often need help accomplishing activities of daily living. After all, even simple tasks like laundry or meal preparation can be daunting when you’re struggling for every breath. If you live in Arizona, Generations Home Care can help. We send trained caregivers into your home to help with tasks like personal care, light housework, errands, and meal preparation. Through our Continuum of Care, we can also connect clients with other health care providers that can help make your breathing difficulties more manageable. Together, we can take on the challenges of respiratory ailments and create a better quality-of-life for you or your older loved one. Contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or fill out the contact page on our website for more information.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.