There are many age-related changes that affect the older adult community regarding the respiratory system. Although smoking is a major risk factor in respiratory illnesses, “even non-smokers have diminished respiratory efficiency and reduced total pulmonary function” as they age (Miller, 2019). Because of age-related risk factors, there is a much higher rate of illness and death related to lower respiratory infections such as influenza and several types of pneumonia (Miller, 2019).
It is important as nurses that we provide education to older adults on the risk factors and ways to lessen the incidence of respiratory issues. Some of the risk factors that I would include are changes in the respiratory tract, diminished physiologic reserve, decreased immune function, and cumulative effects of exposure to pollution (Miller, 2019). The most important education to address would be the debilitating effects of cigarette smoking on the respiratory system, including cancer, as well as a risk for heart disease, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. There is a multitude of resources involving the effects of smoking and the importance of cessation. The two resources with a large amount of research and literature on the effects of smoking are the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association. When older adults have smoked cigarettes for decades, they feel like if they haven’t had any lung or heart issues yet that there is no point in quitting. It is important that they understand that they can still change the course of their life even if most of their life included smoking. In addition to education on the importance of smoking cessation, it is important to educate older adults on the higher susceptibility of pneumonia and influenza, due to a weakened immune system, among other factors. Although there is not an absolute way to prevent those illnesses from happening, education can lower the incidence of these respiratory issues. In my education I would include the importance of handwashing, avoiding hand to mouth and hand to eye contact, breathing in particles when someone coughs and sneezes, avoiding large crowds during flu season, and most importantly up to date vaccinations on influenza and pneumonia (Miller, 2019). There are many older adults that are unaware that there is a pneumonia vaccine. Even though there is no way to completely prevent lower respiratory infections in aging adults, the more we educate, the more we reduce the mortality rate of respiratory-related problems.