Lung Issues Like COPD and Asthma Can Complicate Care in Older Adults

Lung function declines as you age. Nearly 15% of middle-aged and older U.S. adults suffer from lung disorders. More than 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma, and about 14.8 million adults have COPD. Breathing troubles create health complications for those in long-term care.

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Lung Issues Like COPD and Asthma Can Complicate Care in Older Adults
4 Min Read April 12th, 2022 Updated:May 1st, 2022

Most of us take breathing for granted. Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said, "Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts." You have taken 17,000 breaths in the last twenty-four hours. When we are healthy, our breathing occurs naturally and easily. However, especially as we get older, breathing can become a difficult undertaking.

People suffer from multiple health problems, and breathing difficulties become a much more significant health issue. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services chronic conditions data indicates that 11.7% of all Medicare patients had claims with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis in 2019. Around 15 percent of older adults have asthma, COPD, or other respiratory disorder.

Symptoms of breathing and lung problems include wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. The problem is that seniors usually have multiple health problems, which increase with age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60% have at least two chronic illnesses. When you add difficulty breathing, it makes other health issues worse and reduces the quality of life for the individual. 

Lingering COVID-19 Creates On-Going Lung Problems

Older individuals are also at greater risk of COVID-19 infection. Even after a mild case of COVID-19, some people suffer breathing problems that last for months, complicating their overall health picture and adversely impacting their lifestyle.

One research study suggests that one in every six admissions to nursing homes was for patients with a history of emphysema or COPD. Many seniors also have asthma, although it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two in older patients. Normal aging-related changes in lung function will exaggerate asthma symptoms and COPD.

Comorbidities Affect Older People in Long-Term Care

The typical individual with COPD admitted to a long-term health care facility will usually have multiple health problems. COPD may not be the patient's primary health problem complicating care services in assisted living and nursing homes. 

Research shows that those with COPD have problems like cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure. Many COPD patients have had a stroke, and 25% also have asthma. 

Pneumonia, another lung issue, is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in long-term care facilities. These breathing and lung problems are also associated with increased emergency room visits and overnight hospital stays.

Low Oxygen Levels are Dangerous

For many older adults, breathing doesn't come easily due to low oxygen levels. Oxygen therapy is one treatment that helps some patients when they have breathing problems. Normal blood oxygen levels are 95% and above. Home oxygen therapy is recommended when a person’s oxygen level is 88% or less. Those at home receiving in-home care can be treated with oxygen therapy as there is no need to be in a facility just for oxygen treatment. However, those who need more substantial help with daily living activities can receive oxygen therapy and other care services in assisted living and nursing home facilities. 

Treatment for Breathing Problems

COPD is usually progressive. Asthma can range from being mild and associated with outdoor or indoor allergies to chronic requiring medium or high doses of inhaled corticosteroids. Severe asthma does not respond well to standard asthma treatments and can be life-threatening. 

No matter the underlying cause, breathing issues should be treated quickly since the stress on a person's lungs and heart is more significant in older people.

In-home caregivers should ensure that medications for breathing problems are being taken correctly. Increased symptoms like wheezing or severe coughing cannot be ignored. Someone should not smoke if they have asthma, COPD, pneumonia, or another lung disease. Too often, a long-time smokers will attempt to smoke even if they are on oxygen. 

Be sure your loved one is receiving quality care services, whether it is in their home or a long-term care facility. Be proactive with their care. Quality long-term care is costly, and those costs are increasing - but quality caregivers and facilities can make a big difference in overall quality of life. 

Many Families Unprepared for Changes in Health in Loved Ones

Being prepared for these costs and the consequences long-term health care will have on your family and finances should be addressed before you get older and see health declines. 

Since health insurance and Medicare (including supplements) will not pay for most long-term care services, many people turn to Long-Term Care Insurance as a possible solution. But, if you are a former or current smoker or have asthma, can you still obtain coverage?

The answer is yes - depending on the severity of your health problems. Moderate or mild asthma or COPD with infrequent attacks can be insurable, depending on the insurance company. Every insurance company has its own underwriting criteria, so you should get advice from a Long-Term Care Insurance specialist who will review your health history.

Once you obtain coverage, the insurance company cannot cancel the policy as long as you continue to pay the premium. Nor can the insurance company change your premium due to changing health. But keep in mind you must have reasonably good health to obtain coverage, so delaying until your health declines could be you would be unable to get a policy. 

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

The act of breathing is being alive. Our breathing can control our emotions as well as our physical health. If you have asthma, COPD, or other lung problems, you know how you feel when you can't breathe normally.

If you already have a lung issue and it is under good control, you may want to take advantage of your current health status and obtain Long-Term Care Insurance coverage. As you get older, you understand that any other health problem you may develop will make your lung issue worse.

We all face declines in our health, body, and mind because of longevity. Even without a current health problem, we are at greater risk of needing long-term health care due to aging and frailty, not to mention an increased risk of dementia due to aging. Preexisting health problems like asthma or COPD place us at greater risk for needing long-term health care in the decades ahead. When you add a lung problem to the mix, you should be proactive now when you have the opportunity to do so.

Long-Term Care Insurance is an affordable way to provide yourself with your choice of quality care options, including in-home care. You will not only protect your assets from the high costs of long-term care services, but you will also give your loved ones the time to be family instead of caregivers.

Most people obtain coverage in their 50s. Every insurance company has its own underwriting rules. Be sure you share all your health information with a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist who works with the top companies so they can find you the best coverage at the best value.

Get Expert Assistance in Planning

Long-term care is a very specialized area, and few insurance agents and financial advisors have the expertise. Seek the help of a specialist who represents the top companies. 

Experts recommend seeking the help of a qualified and experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you find the right coverage. A specialist will match your age, health, and family history with the right coverage at the right price. 

Top specialists will often have over 500 clients with Long-Term Care Insurance, some in the thousands. This experience is necessary as every company has its own underwriting criteria. Plus, premiums can vary over 100% between insurance companies. 

A specialist will save you money, and you will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

LTC NEWS Offers Many Planning Tools and Resources 

Planning for the future is never easy, but long-term health care planning can be very complicated and comes with many emotions. Getting the right tools and resources will make the process much easier.

One of the goals is to reduce the stress and anxiety usually placed on your family at the time of crisis. LTC NEWS can be beneficial in providing you with important information for you to consider.

LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Finding Quality Care for Mom or Dad

If your family is already in crisis and you need to find help for mom or dad, LTC NEWS can help. We have put together several comprehensive guides to help you in your process.

Start by reading our four guides -  


If your loved one is lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Help in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Many insurance companies have issued Long-Term Care Insurance policies over the years. Filing a claim can sometimes be complicated unless you know what to do or get expert help and assistance.

Don't allow the claim process to stop you from using the benefits available in an LTC policy. Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care.

If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help. LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you, or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work - free with no obligation. 

Get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Benefits of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance. You might be eligible at younger ages as well. 

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, and even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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Be sure to write for our core target audience of adults aged 40 and older. Our audience is worldwide; however, our primary target is the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other English-speaking nations. 

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Email your story idea or article: newsroom@ltcnews.com - LTC News Contributors | LTC News

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