Purpose of review: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most prevalent and increasing health problems in the elderly on a worldwide scale. The management of COPD in older patients presents practical diagnostic and treatment issues, which are reviewed with reference to the stable stage of the disease.
Recent findings: In the diagnostic approach of COPD in the elderly the use of spirometry is recommended, but both patient conditions (such as inability to correctly perform it due to fatigue, lack of coordination, and cognitive impairment) and metrics characteristics should be taken into account for the test performance. It has been demonstrated in population studies that the use of the fixed ratio determines a substantial overdiagnosis of COPD in the oldest patients. Other parameters have been suggested [such as the evaluation of Lower Limit of Normality (LLN) for the FEV1/FVC ratio], which may be useful to guide the diagnosis. Several nonpharmacologic - such as smoking cessation, vaccination, physical activity, and pulmonary rehabilitation, nutrition, and eventually invasive ventilation - and pharmacologic interventions have been shown to improve outcomes and have been reviewed. Effective management of COPD in older adults should always consider the ability of patients to properly use inhalers and the involvement of caregivers or family members as a useful support to care, especially when treating cognitively impaired patients. Especially in the older population, timely identification and treatment of comorbidities are also crucial, but evidence in this area is still lacking and clinical practice guidelines do not take comorbidities into account in their recommendations.
Summary: The Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease has recommended criteria for diagnosis and management of COPD in the general population. On the contrary, available evidence suggests practical limitations in diagnostic approach and intervention strategies in older patients with stable COPD that need to be further studied for a translation into clinical practice guidelines.