Breathing well is critical for a healthy life, but for many people, respiratory issues are a daily problem. There are several respiratory conditions that especially affect the aging population. While some are preventable, they all require treatment, and this increases the demand for respiratory therapists.
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Asthma in older adults is a serious condition that often goes untreated, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), an estimated 23 million people in the U.S. have some form of asthma, and many of them are older. While asthma is usually manageable, it can make dealing with other health issues more difficult. According to the AAFA, older people with asthma often require higher doses of medication, and even during mild asthma attacks they are more likely to suffer from respiratory failure.
Many members of the aging population also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The ODPHP reports that an estimated 27 million Americans have COPD — another term for progressive lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema which are caused by exposure to cigarette smoke or other lung irritants, according to Healthline. COPD can appear at any age, but is more common in older populations and can be fatal. According to the ODPHP, COPD is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States, totaling some 120,000 deaths per year.
Other Respiratory Issues
Many elderly people also suffer from respiratory issues unrelated to asthma or COPD. These include idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, respiratory distress syndromes and sarcoidosis, as well as upper airway conditions such as chronic sinusitis and rhinitis. Respiratory issues can also be a sign of chronic illness. According to the Oxford Journals, “Acute respiratory failure (ARF) in patients over 65 years is common in emergency departments and is one of the key symptoms of congestive heart failure and respiratory disorders.”
In addition, the elderly population also faces the effects of aging on the lungs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bones become thinner as people age, and this can cause the ribcage to change shape and become rigid, making it difficult to expand or contract as easily as when the person was younger. The muscles around the diaphragm also become weaker, making it harder to pull air in and out of the lungs. These factors combine to contribute to impaired breathing, according to Merck Manuals.
Opportunities in Respiratory Therapy
Since respiratory issues are common in the aging population, this creates opportunities for respiratory therapists in the job market. Getting treatment for these respiratory issues typically involves working with a respiratory therapist to get a proper diagnosis of any breathing difficulties, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19% growth for the profession from 2012 to 2022. Click here to find out how University of Cincinnati’s Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy program can position you to help make a difference and improve the quality of life for those dealing with respiratory problems.