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Is COPD a Disability for Elderly People in the UK?

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive lung condition that causes breathing difficulties. It actually refers to a group of diseases which can cause airflow blockage.

The main symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, coughing, and wheezing. COPD is caused by smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, dust, and other air pollution. It is a common condition for senior citizens.

While COPD is often seen in smokers, it is not the only cause of the condition. However, in many cases, someone who smokes may be suffering from COPD and not be aware of it.

While it is a progressive illness, with treatment, many patients can improve their quality of life by taking medications and making lifestyle changes. Therefore, it’s best to ascertain whether you’re suffering from COPD as early as possible to have the best long-term outcomes.

How does COPD affect people?

COPD can have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life. For example, it can make it difficult to do everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs. People with COPD may also experience fatigue and shortness of breath.

Additionally, those who suffer from COPD may have frequent chest infections.

It’s not unusual for those who have the condition to experience what are known as “flare ups” – periods where the symptoms get worse. It’s common for this to happen during the winter.

How is COPD measured?

One measure of COPD severity is forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV). FEV means that the person with COPD breathes with forced breath. The amount of air that is exhaled in one second is then measured.

While the symptoms of COPD can vary from person to person, the condition is generally classified as either mild, moderate or severe.


Some people with COPD may only have mild symptoms that don’t really impact their day-to-day lives.

Generally, a person with COPD is considered to have mild COPD if their FEV value is greater than 80% of the predicted normal value for someone of the same age, height, weight and gender.

Moderate COPD

People with moderate COPD will usually experience more symptoms and may start to find everyday activities difficult. Moderate COPD generally presents in the patient as having a forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV) of between 50% and 80% of their predicted value.

Severe COPD

A patient with severe COPD will have an FEV that is less than 50% of their predicted value.

People with severe COPD will likely suffer symptoms that heavily impact their quality of life. They may find it difficult to do things like walk upstairs and may even experience symptoms when at rest. Severe COPD can also lead to other health problems, like heart failure.

COPD is a disabling condition for many people in the UK and is sadly the fifth highest cause of death. However, getting the right treatment and making lifestyle changes early will help to possibly slow the condition.

Therefore, if you think you might have COPD, it's important to see your GP to get a diagnosis.

COPD and continuing to smoke

For those who have already been diagnosed with COPD, continuing to smoke is the most significant thing you can do to make your COPD worse. It is never too late to give up smoking and doing so will slow down the progression of COPD.

Other risk factors for COPD include:

  • a family history of COPD or asthma
  • being exposed to second-hand smoke, air pollution, dust or chemical fumes at work
  • having another lung disease, like bronchitis or emphysema.

Is COPD a disability?

COPD is not currently classified as a disability in the UK, but this may change in the future.

However, if your COPD makes you unable to work, you may still be eligible for standard financial support and benefits.

How does COPD affect the elderly?

COPD affects the elderly in a number of ways. COPD can make it difficult to breathe, which in turn can lead to fatigue and an inability to do everyday tasks such as walking or climbing stairs. This can, in turn mean that an older person then finds themselves suffering from other conditions due to lowered activity.

COPD can also cause anxiety and depression due to the fear of not being able to breathe.

In addition, COPD can increase the risk of falls and fractures due to the associated symptoms such as feeling dizzy or faint/lightheaded. COPD can also lead to social isolation as people with COPD may not be able to participate in activities that they used to enjoy. Finally, COPD can have a significant impact on cognitive function and memory, which can be extremely upsetting for both the person with COPD and their family and friends.

Is COPD linked with dementia?

There is currently no definitive answer as to whether COPD is linked with dementia. However, there are a few studies that suggest that COPD may be a risk factor for developing dementia. One study found that people with COPD were more likely to develop dementia than those without COPD. Another study found that people with COPD who also had mild symptoms of dementia were more likely to have a decline in cognitive function than those without COPD.

While the studies are not definitive, they do suggest that COPD may be a risk factor for developing dementia.

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is usually diagnosed by a doctor who undertakes tests which may include a chest x-ray, lung function tests, and blood tests. A test called spirometry helps to show how well your lungs are working.

In this test, you are asked to breathe into a machine known as a spirometer after inhaling a medicine which widens your airways.

The spirometer measure two things – the volume of air you can breathe out in a second and the total amount of air you breathe out. These results are then benchmarked against normal results for your age.

Chest X-rays are also used to look for issues in the lungs which may cause symptoms which are similar to COPD.

Blood tests also help to identify risk factors for COPD.

How a personal alarm can help an elderly person with COPD

A personal alarm can assist someone who is living with COPD in several ways. First, it can provide them with a way to call for help if they are experiencing a COPD attack. Second, it can give them peace of mind knowing that someone will be alerted if they fall or have some other type of accident related to their condition. An alarm can be used to summon help if the person experiences any symptoms which are worrying them.

If you are living with COPD, or know someone who is, then a personal alarm could be a valuable addition to your safety plan.

Treatments for COPD

Treatment is available for those who have COPD. While there is no cure for COPD, treatments can help to relieve the symptoms and slow the progression of the condition.

Common treatments include:


Inhalers help those suffering from COPD by delivering medication directly to the lungs. There are different types of inhalers available, and your doctor will be able to advise you on which one is best for you.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy involves using a machine to deliver oxygen to the lungs. This can help to relieve symptoms of COPD and improve quality of life.


In some cases, surgery may be an option to treat COPD. Surgery (in severe cases) is usually only considered if other treatments have not been effective and can include lung volume reduction surgery, which can remove a badly damaged section of the lung to make breathing more comfortable, or in rare cases, a lung transplant.

While COPD can be a distressing condition, knowing how it presents and how it can be treated can help you to feel more in control. So, if you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, do visit your GP for advice.

Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to find out more about how a personal alarm can help keep you safe when you or a loved one suffers from COPD.

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