Management of asthma in the elderly

Juan P. Wisniversky, Cara Foldes, Thomas G. McGinn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Asthma occurs frequently and is often underdiagnosed in the elderly. As in younger adults, this disease is characterized by airway inflammation, increased airway responsiveness to a variety of stimuli, and reversible airflow. Incomplete reversibility is more common among elderly patients, especially when asthma is longstanding or severe. The differential diagnosis in the elderly is larger, as other pulmonary or cardiovascular diseases - highly prevalent in this population - may mimic the symptoms of this disease. Distinguishing between asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may also be difficult as the clinical presentations of these diseases overlap. The management of asthma is similar for all ages. The overall goal of treatment is to permit an optimal level of activity and maintain quality of life. Useful medications include bronchodilators (short- and long-acting beta2-agonists and anticholinergics), inhaled and oral corticosteroids, methylxanthines, and leukotriene inhibitors. It is important to recognize that the potential for drug interactions is greater in elderly patients because they are likely to be on multiple medications for other conditions, particularly heart disease. Limited information exists specifically assessing the effectiveness of asthma therapy in older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Long-Term Care
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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