Drugs & Aging

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 209–228

Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Older Patients

A Practical Guide
Therapy in Practice

DOI: 10.2165/00002512-200320030-00005

Cite this article as:
Yohannes, A.M. & Hardy, C.C. Drugs Aging (2003) 20: 209. doi:10.2165/00002512-200320030-00005

Abstract

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common disability, largely encountered in the elderly population, in whom it causes significant morbidity and mortality. The general perception of health professionals is that COPD is often a self-inflicted disorder affecting the more socio-economically disadvantaged segment of the population with significant comorbidity. COPD is the least funded in terms of research in relation to illness burden compared with other chronic diseases. However, recently published guidelines of both the British Thoracic Society and the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease have highlighted best management strategies both of chronic symptoms and acute exacerbations in this patient group.

The chronic management of COPD should, like asthma, involve a stepwise approach with smoking cessation being pivotal for all severities of COPD, regardless of patient age. The mainstay of therapeutic treatment remains regular bronchodilators, both β2-adrenoreceptor agonists and anticholinergic agents.

Current evidence suggests that long-acting β2-adrenoreceptor agonists such as salmeterol and the new long-acting anticholinergic agent tiotropium bromide are more efficacious than their shorter acting equivalents such as salbutamol and ipratropium bromide in terms of bronchodilation, improved well-being and a reduction in acute exacerbation rates. Additionally since they are taken once or twice daily compliance should be improved. The role of long-term inhaled corticosteroids in the chronic management of COPD is contentious. Only those patients with COPD who have been shown to respond to a formal corticosteroid trial, preferably with a 2-week course of oral corticosteroid, should receive long-term inhaled corticosteroids.

In the management of acute exacerbations in acidotic patients nasal ventilation is the treatment of choice in addition to conventional treatment with bronchodilators and oral corticosteroids. Antibacterials need not be prescribed universally in all exacerbations of COPD.

Pulmonary rehabilitation classes either individually or in groups have been shown to be beneficial in the management of patients with COPD and their use in secondary care is to be encouraged.

Most treatment modalities do not improve pulmonary function in patients with severe COPD. Therefore, pulmonary function including spirometry should be used to make the diagnosis of COPD but not as a monitor of efficacy of treatment. Assessment of severity of COPD and improvement with treatment modalities is best done with dynamic exercise testing such as 6-minute walk tests and incremental shuttle walk tests or with the administration of disease-specific physical disability and quality-of-life questionnaires.

Most COPD research does not specifically target the older COPD patients and these patients may merit special consideration for their optimum assessment and management.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the School of PhysiotherapyManchester Royal InfirmaryManchesterUK
  2. 2.Respiratory MedicineManchester Royal InfirmaryManchesterUK
  3. 3.Manchester School of PhysiotherapyManchester Royal InfirmaryManchesterUK

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