Age-related Changes to the Respiratory System Will Not Affect Healthy Elderly

Rhonda Witte, BSc

"I'm so out of breath! I must be getting old." Have you ever heard someone use that expression before? Chances are that you have. You may have even used it yourself. Sometimes it is used as an excuse for not having exercised enough. But is there truth to that statement? The answer is yes. With age, the respiratory system changes and may predispose us to shortness of breath in situations where we may not have been before.

Exogenous and endogenous factors play a role in age-associated changes to the respiratory system. Infection, climate, air pollution and mechanical injuries are a few of the exogenous insults the lungs incur over time.1 System diseases and infectious diseases are endogenous factors that can often affect the lungs in elderly patients.1 For example, COPD occurs more commonly in the elderly. Esophageal disorders and Parkinson's disease are other endogenous factors which are frequently associated with lung aspiration and pneumonia in elderly individuals.1

Older and younger patients differ with respect to pulmonary function because of age-related changes of the respiratory system. Consequently, it is important that the physician in care is aware of the changes so that proper care is administered. Although much more work needs to be done to determine the exact consequences of these age-related changes, one should be aware of possible complications that may occur.