Denial is a natural response when you’re diagnosed with a chronic, potentially life-altering illness, as is anxiety when reading the list of possible side-effects of the medications necessary for controlling the illness and preventing it from worsening, or causing lasting damage. Who wants to think of themselves as sick? Or to take daily, preventative treatments that remind you of that fact, when you feel fine, thank-you very much? And if your doctor or pharmacist doesn’t have time for an in-depth discussion that puts the likelihood of (typically uncommon, or mild) versus the odds of experiencing complications from the illness into context, you might very well decide to forgo taking your prescribed medications.
This may be particularly true of asthma, which arguably doesn’t get the respect it deserves. While some people may think of it as a relatively benign condition that primarily affects kids, it can have serious consequences, such as permanent, irreversible lung damage — and not only does it affect adults, people 65 and over are more likely to experience respiratory failure as a result of poorly controlled asthma, even with mild symptoms. And the disease can go undiagnosed in older adults, since they, and their physicians may dismiss symptoms such as shortness of breath as ‘just part of getting older.’
Fortunately, we have safe, effective treatments that can help the vast majority of people with asthma, including newer therapies that are bringing relief to some people with severe symptoms that aren’t adequately controlled with the standard regimens.
You can read more about why diagnosing and treating asthma is more important than ever in later life by reading my latest Reader’s question column for Good Times.
For a deeper dive into the topic, I highly recommend checking out Asthma Canada’s brochure and webinar on Living Well With Asthma as an Older Adult.
Thank you to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Parameswaran Nair, Frederick E. Hargreaves Teva Innovation Chair in Airway Diseases, and a professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
- Stacey MacNeilly, a respiratory therapist, certified asthma educator, and spokesperson for Asthma Canada.
Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net