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What Is COPD and How Does It Affect Seniors – North Shore – North Vancouver, West Vancouver

There is a multitude of illnesses and ailments that pose a greater risk with age, and COPD falls into that category. Although COPD is strongly linked to excessive tobacco use, you don’t necessarily have to have been a smoker to be affected by the disease.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term that is used to describe various progressive inflammatory lung diseases that result in obstructed airflow from the lungs, such as:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • An irreversible form of asthma called refractory asthma


Emphysema is a condition of the lungs that results in shortness of breath due to damage to the alveoli, which are the air sacs in the lungs. This lung disease is typically caused by extensive exposure to airborne irritants like smoke, pollution, chemical fumes, and dust.

Chronic Bronchitis

This lung condition occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes become inflamed, impeding the capacity to carry air to and from the lungs. Similar to emphysema, bronchitis is also often caused by the same types of lung irritants, but can also be the result of contracting a virus similar to those that cause cold and flu.

Refractory Asthma

Most asthma patients can be successfully treated with available medications. However, some individuals do not respond to these standard treatments and continue to experience attacks and persistent symptoms despite taking the prescribed medications. Many patients with refractory asthma end up taking oral steroids to manage the illness.


There is presently no cure for COPD, but there are approaches and treatments that can impede the progression of the disease, and help manage the symptoms.

How does it affect seniors?

Seniors are more susceptible to lung infection and disease due to the age-related weakening of the muscles, lungs, and immune system.

COPD is one of the leading causes of death and disease for seniors in Canada. It is currently the fourth leading cause of mortality, but is rapidly increasing and could soon be the third most common cause of death.

Even though it is such a prevalent and deadly disease, awareness is surprisingly low and people in general still know very little about it.

While it is true that our lungs become less efficient with age, respiratory illness is not a natural part of aging. If you or a loved is experiencing respiratory issues it is a good idea to get checked out as soon as possible.

Symptoms of COPD

There are some early warning signs to be on the lookout for, which can indicate the beginnings of COPD. Some symptoms to watch for are:

  • Increasing shortness of breath, especially when engaging in physical activity
  • Wheezing, hissing, or whistling sound when breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • A chronic cough that often produces mucus or sputum
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Becoming exhausted after light activity

Because these symptoms are often associated with other illnesses as well, COPD may be hard to identify at first. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, and find you are often coming down with colds or the flu, it is recommended to get examined by a professional just to be sure.

Causes and Risk Factors

COPD is typically caused by long-term exposure to pollutants in the lungs. For example, smoking is far and away the leading cause of COPD.

The main causes and risk factors include:

  • Tobacco smoke – inhaled directly or second hand
  • Hazardous chemicals, fumes, or dust from certain work environments
  • Genetics – Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency(AATD) – a very rare genetic condition that can cause COPD
  • Asthma – extreme cases of asthma can lead to COPD

Treatments for COPD

While it is not possible to eradicate the disease entirely once it has developed, there are steps you can take to relieve symptoms and stem the progression of the illness.

Some effective methods are:

  • Avoiding things that trigger an episode – like smoking and poor air quality
  • Regular exercise to work on lung capacity overall health
  • Eat a nutritious and balanced diet
  • Medications can also be used to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups
  • Anti-inflammatory medications

Seek Assistance

Treatment methods and preventative measures can be facilitated by a professional home care agency like Retire-At-Home.

The experienced and qualified caregivers at Retire-At-Home can help you or a loved one with treatments like exercise routines, establishing a healthy diet, and breathing exercises.

Contact us today for a Free Home Care Assessment to discuss how our services in the North Shore – North Vancouver, and West Vancouver can help provide support to you or someone you care about.