Caregiver Guide: Breathing Problems

Understanding the Problem

As people age, certain activities can make them slightly winded or out of breath.  (These may be activities like going up a flight of stairs.)  This simply may be related to being out of condition due to physical inactivity.

However, aging sometimes brings on other, more serious, breathing problems.  This includes chest discomfort, wheezing, coughing, and/or shortness of breath that makes it difficult to perform normal activities. While these symptoms can be common, they should not be considered a normal part of aging.

Difficulty breathing is usually a result of a medical problem or condition, no matter how old you are.

There are some medical conditions that can cause breathing problems. Some of these include pneumonia, heart failure, neurologic disorders (such as stroke), cancer, and include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (known as COPD).  COPD includes pulmonary emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma.

Breathing problems are also sometimes linked to anemia, allergies, colds, sinus problems, and heartburn. People who are overweight are also more prone to breathing problems.

As a caregiver, your job is to be alert to changes in the older person’s breathing and to make sure the changes are reported to the healthcare provider. You should also make certain that a treatment routine is followed and that all medicines are used properly. Encourage the older person to quit smoking, get needed immunizations, and exercise regularly to prevent or reduce breathing problems.

Your goals are to:

  • Prevent breathing problems from happening
  • Report breathing problems to the healthcare provider
  • Make sure that directions for treatment are followed

Click on each of the topics below to read more.

Updated July 2015

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