Although often considered a childhood health problem, asthma - a chronic inflammatory disease that causes recurrent cough, wheezing and chest tightness or shortness of breath - can cause serious illness for people age 60 and older, and little is known about the triggers of asthma specific to seniors.
Understanding the personal and environmental influences of asthma in older adults is the focus of a $2.3 million National Institute on Aging grant awarded to Barbara Polivka, Ph.D., Shirley B. Powers Endowed Chair in Nursing, University of Louisville School of Nursing, and her interdisciplinary team.
"Asthma is a complicated health problem as it's considered a collection of various characteristics verses a single disease," Polivka said. "This study is novel because until now there has been no comprehensive measurement of the many biophysical factors, along with environmental exposures that impact asthma control and quality of life in older adults."
The researchers hope to recruit 190 asthma suffers age 60 and older who are non-smokers and have no other lung diseases. They'll gather information related to patient demographics, health history, occupational exposures, age at asthma onset and duration, tobacco use, the presence of other diseases, medication profile and individual asthma-specific knowledge. Blood-work, pulmonary function tests and a skin-allergy test will be a part of the data collection process for each participant.
During this five-year study, the team also will measure chemical emissions from outdoor and common indoor materials and allergens associated with higher risks of asthma. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in cleaning products, room fresheners, polishes, carpets, solvents, floor adhesives and paints are known to cause problems for children with asthma, but this is the first study to explore VOC exposure and asthma control in older adults. Asthma sufferers often experience exacerbations following exposure to dust, smoke, fumes, fungi, animals and plants. Such allergen exposures will be measured in each participant home - ranging from single-family houses to retirement community-style arrangements.
"As the population ages and the number of older adults with asthma in the United States increases to an estimated 4 million by 2030, the information from this study can be used to develop and test patient-centered interventions to help seniors with asthma better manage their symptoms, reduce trips to the emergency room and improve their overall well-being," Polivka said.