COPD Tied To Disability and Less Socializing

COPD patients had less social engagement and earlier deaths than those without COPD

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) COPD is a condition that makes breathing more difficult, but it's presence could affect other areas of life, including risk for disability and even social engagement.

In a recent study, researchers followed Americans over the age of 70 and examined their ability to perform daily tasks and engage socially.

These researchers found that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were more likely to report problems performing daily tasks and to have low levels of social activities.

"Quit smoking and avoid secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke."

Led by Yong Liu, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch in Atlanta, Georgia, this new study compared the average older population to patients with COPD, a group of conditions that involve breathing troubles.

Exposure to tobacco smoke is a key risk factor in developing COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but other factors like air pollutants, genetics and respiratory infections can play a role, said CDC. COPD is a leading cause of death in the US.

According to Liu and colleagues, as the disease progresses, COPD patients may develop disabilities and have trouble engaging in daily life, which could potentially be tied to a reduction in social engagement and an increase in depression. The researchers aimed to more closely explore these topics and see how COPD affected quality of life.

To do so, the researchers utilized data from the national Second Supplement on Aging survey to identify 9,415 participants aged 70 or older.

These participants were initially surveyed in 1994 to 1996. A follow-up was completed in 2006 to examine instances of death using the National Death Index.

At the study's start, approximately 9.6 percent of the participants reported having a diagnosis of COPD.

Liu and colleagues measured the participants' "limitations in activities of daily living" by asking how much difficulty they had performing tasks like bathing, eating, getting out of bed, walking or getting outside by themselves and without special equipment.

Of the COPD patients, 44.3 percent reported having problems with at least one activity of daily living, compared to 27.5 percent of participants without COPD.

Participants were also asked about difficulties with "instrumental activities of daily living," which included more complex tasks like preparing their own meals, shopping for groceries, managing their money and handling housework like scrubbing floors or doing dishes.

COPD patients were also more likely to report problems with at least one instrumental activity of daily living — 59.9 percent of COPD patients versus 40.2 percent of their peers without COPD.

Social engagement was measured by asking the participants about activities like getting together with friends or family, talking on the phone to friends or family, going to church, a restaurant, group event or sporting events within the previous two weeks.

Based on their responses to questions about seven different types of activities, the participants were given a score from zero to seven. Scores of six to seven were considered to be high social activity levels and scores of zero to three were considered low social activity levels.

Of the COPD patients, 32.6 percent reported having low social activity levels in the previous two weeks, compared to 26.3 percent of the participants without COPD.

Furthermore, COPD patients had a higher risk of dying by the study's follow-up — 70.7 percent had passed away by 2006, compared to 60.4 percent of the other participants.

"COPD is positively associated with disability and mortality risk among US adults aged 70 years or older," Liu and colleagues wrote. "These findings support current efforts to develop effective strategies to mitigate the impact of disability among older adults."

It is important to note that the data was self-reported by participants, which could allow for some error or bias.

This study was published January 15 by the International Journal of COPD. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
January 19, 2014
Last Updated:
January 21, 2014