Objective: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) prevalence steadily increases with age. However, the effectiveness of inhaled therapy in the elderly COPD population has rarely been formally evaluated. We studied a group of elderly patients with COPD with a range of severity, selected from one General Practice register to measure peak inspiratory flow (PIF) and assess patient perceived benefit.
Methods: we recruited 53 randomly selected elderly patients with COPD (36 males) with a mean age of 73.5 years (range 65-89 years). The evaluation consisted of (i) information obtained from directed questions and (ii) objective measurements of the ability to generate adequate PIF for a variety of inhalers. Patients answered questions regarding ease of use, perceived benefit from and specific problems encountered with their inhaler. Three recordings of PIF were measured at varying inhaled resistances using the 'In-Check Dial'.
Results: thirty-five were classified as mild, 17 moderate and 1 severe COPD. All patients used a metered dose inhaler (pMDI), and 12 of the patients also used a dry powder inhaler (DPI). Forty six per cent of patients using a pMDI and 17% of those using a DPI rated their device difficult to use. No patient used a nebuliser. Thirty-one of the 53 patients using just a pMDI felt they were able to perceive benefit in comparison to 4 of the 12 DPI users. Even though most DPI users (10/12) had rated their inhaler as easy to use, 50% were 'unsure' as to whether they received any clinical benefit. Most patients were unable to generate sufficient inspiratory flow to use the higher resistance DPI's and patients with COPD who were able to generate adequate PIF were invariably mild. A significant negative correlation was found between age and the PIF achieved when assessed using the high resistance device setting (R = 0.84, P<0.0001). Multivariate analysis showed the effect of age on PIF was independent of the disease grade.
Conclusions: elderly patients with COPD, even when in a stable clinical condition, may be unable to gain optimum benefit from their inhaler.