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Asthma Disparities Among Older Adults

 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America report on Asthma Disparities in America looks at the burden of asthma on racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Health disparities are preventable health differences between groups of people. They are higher burdens of illness or death linked to social, economic, and environmental disadvantages. For example, if one group of people has a higher rate of asthma than another group of people, it is an asthma disparity.

Asthma is common in older adults. And like with younger populations, Black and Hispanic adults 65 and older are disproportionately burdened by asthma. We are putting a spotlight on the burden of asthma on these groups.


Around 7.8% of Americans 65 and older have asthma. That’s about the same as the number of the general population that has asthma. But older adults have more asthma symptoms and deaths than younger people. They are also less likely to get the diagnosis and treatment they need. The impact of asthma is even greater among Black, Hispanic, and low-income adults 65 and older. Black and Hispanic older adults go to the emergency room for asthma more than 1.5 times than white older adults. They also are more likely to have gaps in health insurance coverage.

Black and Hispanic older adults go to the emergency room for asthma more than 1.5 times than white older adults

Other health issues common to older adults can make asthma diagnosis and treatment harder. Changes in aging lungs can also make asthma worse.

Issues that can make asthma diagnosis and treatment in older adults difficult:

  • Other age-related health issues that can be confused with asthma, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, paroxysmal arrhythmias, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Changes in aging lungs
  • Reduced mental and motor skills
  • Lack of being included in clinical trials
  • Trouble doing lung function tests
  • Fears and confusion about treatment

COVID-19 Disparities in Older Adults

COVID-19, like asthma, has further highlighted stark health disparities in the United States. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been evident that the illness affects Black, Hispanic, Indigenous Americans, and older adults the most.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults have a much greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The chance of death from COVID-19 by age:

  • Age 65 to 74: 90 times higher
  • Age 75 to 84: 220 times higher
  • Age 85 and older: 630 times higher


Improving the Health of Older Adults With Asthma

Older adults with asthma can thrive with an asthma management plan. In fact, the right care can reduce unplanned office visits, emergency department visits, and treatment with oral corticosteroids. Older adults with severe or hard-to-treat asthma also tend to manage their asthma better than younger people.

But the problem is asthma treatment programs need to be tailored to older adults with asthma. This age group usually needs continued and frequent use of multiple costly drugs. Senior adult health care works best when there is care coordination between specialists and primary care.

More research needs to be done to better understand and treat asthma with age in mind. AAFA is working to reduce asthma disparities for at-risk groups and improve asthma care for everyone.

Learn more in "Spotlight: Asthma in Older Adults" from our Asthma Disparities in America report:

Download Spotlight: Asthma in Older Adults Download PDF


The Asthma Disparities in America report is made possible by support from AstraZeneca, Genentech, Novartis, PhRMA, and Sanofi Genzyme and Regeneron. The full report can be found at aafa.org/asthmadisparities.

Improving Asthma Care

Sign up for AAFA’s community to stay up to date about the following opportunities to get involved:

  • Advocate for people affected by asthma
  • Take part in patient-centered research and clinical trials
  • Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council
  • Get invitations to special events with expert speakers

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  • Black and Hispanic older adults go to the emergency room for asthma more than 1.5 times than white older adults: Black and Hispanic older adults go to the emergency room for asthma more than 1.5 times than white older adults

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