Asthma in Older Adults: Under-Studied, Under-Diagnosed and Under-Treated

Washington, D.C. (September 13, 2011)

As the proportion of people 65 years and older is expected to double in the United States by 2050, more emphasis needs to be placed on recognizing, diagnosing and treating asthma in older adults, according to the proceedings of a recent workshop sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and led by American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Center researchers. The proceedings were published in the September issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Experts participating in the workshop identified current understandings about the mechanisms of asthma in older persons, as well as knowledge gaps and research opportunities that may lead to improved medical care and health outcomes for older people with asthma.

“This workshop grew out of a working group of physicians and scientists from the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers bringing to the attention of the NIA the many gaps in knowledge and very little research on asthma in the elderly,” said Jim King, D.O., co-primary investigator of the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Center at the University of South Florida-Tampa.

Many challenges exist in the recognition, diagnosis and treatment of asthma in the elderly. Asthma in older adults is likely to be different from that seen in young asthmatics. These differences may influence the clinical course, management and outcomes of asthma in this population. There are at least two types of asthma among older persons: long-standing asthma, which has more severe airflow limitation and less complete reversibility; and late onset asthma, which has similar clinical and physiologic consequences as seen with younger individuals.

“Asthma is a disease that greatly impacts the elderly, yet it continues to be under-studied, under-diagnosed and under-treated,” said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “Coexisting illnesses and the psychosocial effects of aging may affect the clinical presentation and course of asthma in this population.”

Research questions arising from the workshop have resulted in three NIH program announcements intended to fund research on the pathophysiology, epidemiology, diagnosis, and/or management of asthma in older adults.

The American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers Network is the nation’s largest not-for-profit network of clinical research centers dedicated to asthma treatment research. The network’s mission is to conduct large clinical trials that will have a direct impact on patient care and asthma treatment. The network consists of 18 Asthma Clinical Research Centers based at leading universities across the United States and a Data Coordinating Center managed by a team at Johns Hopkins University.

For more information about the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers visit http://www.lung.org/finding-cures/our-research/acrc/.

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