Asthma prevalence among US elderly by age groups: age still matters

J Asthma. 2012 Aug;49(6):593-9. doi: 10.3109/02770903.2012.684252. Epub 2012 Jul 6.


Objective: For over three decades, the greatest burden of asthma deaths has occurred among persons aged 65 years and older. This study analyzed the association between increasing age and asthma prevalence among age groups within the US elderly population.

Methods: We analyzed aggregated data on 54,485 civilian, noninstitutionalized US adults aged 65 years and older from the 2001-2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). We estimated the prevalence of current asthma, lifetime asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among US elderly by 5-year age groups and age stages ("young elderly" aged 65-84 years and "oldest old" aged ≥85 years). We calculated adjusted odds ratios (AOR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) to identify asthma prevalence patterns among elderly populations.

Results: From 2001 to 2010, the estimated average annual prevalence of current asthma among US elderly was 7.0%. Estimates of lifetime asthma, COPD, and co-occurring current asthma and COPD were 9.9%, 9.7%, and 3.0%, respectively. Prevalence of asthma decreased with advancing age while prevalence of COPD increased with advancing age. When controlling for study variables and significant interactions (p = .05) with COPD, the odds of reporting current asthma decreased with advancing age: 0.87 (95% CI, 0.76-1.01) for 70- to 74-year-olds; 0.76 (95% CI, 0.66-0.87) for 75- to 79-year-olds; 0.62 (95% CI, 0.51-0.75) for 80- to 84-year-olds; and 0.45 (95% CI, 0.36-0.55) for ≥85-year-olds, as compared to 65- to 69-year-olds.

Conclusions: Asthma continues to affect a substantial proportion of the US elderly population. Increased diagnosis of COPD may overshadow correct diagnosis and treatment in populations with advancing age. Treatment guidelines should focus on preventable risk behaviors to increase the quality of life within this population.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology