35 Million Seniors Have Lung Disease and Don’t Know It

Shocking but apparently true: in America alone, there may be as many as 35 million Americans with undiagnosed lung disease. The findings are detailed in a new report from Reuters.

For the most part, these are former smokers who don’t yet meet the diagnosis criteria for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or cancer. Nevertheless, they’re already beginning to experience some degree of pulmonary impairment — even if they don’t realize it. And for most, without treatment, things will only get worse.

The numbers are so big because so many elderly Americans used to smoke cigarettes. In previous generations, smoking was as commonplace as texting is today. Half of Americans age 49 or older are current or former smokers, Reuters reports. One out of every five U.S. adults still smokes.

The repercussions, unfortunately, are made manifest in the lungs. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the overwhelming majority of cases stem from cigarette use.

COPD gets worse over time and can eventually make it difficult or even impossible to breathe.

There is hope, though. Early treatment can make a significant difference in a patient’s prognosis, effectively slowing the disease’s progression. The same is true to some extent for lung cancer.

Experts are calling for a change in the medical community’s diagnostic criteria for COPD. In the meantime, they urge elderly Americans to ask their doctors about screening tests. Reuters notes that Medicare may cover a CT scan of the chest as a preventative measure.

This startling report serves as a reminder that while much of the discussion in elder care these days focuses on Alzheimer’s and dementia, aging Americans face a wide range of other health threats, too. Of those, lung disease remains one of the most widespread and urgent.

There’s good news, though. Reports like these are quickly shuttling the healthcare industry toward new advances in diagnostic screenings, prevention, and treatment.

In the meantime, if you or your loved one is concerned about the high cost of healthcare and how you might be able to pay for chronic illnesses as you age, our office can help. From Medicaid issues to long-term care planning, the talented Phoenix elder law attorneys at can help. Contact us today.


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