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Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(3):253-60.

Effect of aging on respiratory system physiology and immunology.

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Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, Immunology, Critical care, and Sleep (APICS), Department of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas Medical Branch, 301 University Blvd, Galveston,TX 77555-0561, USA.


With the looming expansion of the elderly population of the US, a thorough understanding of "normal" aging-related changes on the respiratory system is paramount. The respiratory system undergoes various anatomical, physiological and immunological changes with age. The structural changes include chest wall and thoracic spine deformities which impairs the total respiratory system compliance leading to increase work of breathing. The lung parenchyma loses its supporting structure causing dilation of air spaces: "senile emphysema". Respiratory muscle strength decreases with age and can impair effective cough, which is important for airway clearance. The lung matures by age 20-25 years, and thereafter aging is associated with progressive decline in lung function. The alveolar dead space increases with age, affecting arterial oxygen without impairing the carbon dioxide elimination. The airways receptors undergo functional changes with age and are less likely to respond to drugs used in younger counterparts to treat the same disorders. Older adults have decreased sensation of dyspnea and diminished ventilatory response to hypoxia and hypercapnia, making them more vulnerable to ventilatory failure during high demand states (ie, heart failure, pneumonia, etc) and possible poor outcomes.

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