Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease diagnosis and management in older adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Jun;58(6):1153-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02875.x.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in older adults is a complex disorder with several unique age-related aspects. Underlying changes in pulmonary lung function and poor sensitivity to bronchoconstriction and hypoxia with advancing age can place older adults at greater risk of mortality or other complications from COPD. The establishment of the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease criteria, which can be effectively applied to older adults, has more rigorously defined the diagnosis and management of COPD. An important component of this approach is the use of spirometry for disease staging, a procedure that can be performed in most older adults. The management of COPD includes smoking cessation, influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations, and the use of short-and long-acting bronchodilators. Unlike with asthma, corticosteroid inhalers represent a third-line option for COPD. Combination therapy is frequently required. When using various inhaler designs, it is important to note that older adults, especially those with more-severe disease, may have inadequate inspiratory force for some dry-powder inhalers, although many older adults find the dry-powder inhalers easier to use than metered-dose inhalers. Other important treatment options include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, noninvasive positive airway pressure, and depression and osteopenia screening. Clinicians caring for older adults with an acute COPD exacerbation should also guard against prognostic pessimism. Although COPD is associated with significant disability, there is a growing range of treatment options to assist patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Terminal Care