The lungs have two main functions: to obtain oxygen from the air, which is necessary for life, and to remove carbon dioxide from the body. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of many chemical reactions that support life.
During breathing, air enters and exits the lungs. It flows through less and less respiratory tract (trachea), finally, it fills tiny sacs called alveoli. Blood circulates around the alveoli through the capillaries (tiny blood vessels). In places where capillaries and alveoli meet, oxygen passes into the blood. At the same time, carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli to be exhaled.
The lungs are constantly exposed to microscopic particles in the air, including smoke, pollen, dust, and microorganisms. Some of these respirable substances can cause lung diseases if their concentration is high enough or the body is particularly sensitive to them.
The body usually produces new alveoli by about 20 years. After that, the lungs begin to lose some of their tissue. The number of alveoli decreases, and there is a corresponding decrease in pulmonary capillaries. The lungs also become less elastic, losing the ability to expand and contract due to various factors, including the loss of elastin protein tissue.
Changes in bones and muscles change the size of the chest. The loss of bone mass in the ribs and spine, as well as the deposition of various salts in the costal cartilages, curvature of the spine, kyphosis, lordosis or scoliosis, can change, or rather, reduce the amount of inhaled air with a sigh. The maximum force of inspiration or expiration decreases with age, as the diaphragm and intercostal muscles become weaker. The chest is less able to stretch to make breathing movements, and the rhythm of breathing may change slightly to compensate for this decrease in the ability to expand the chest.
Impact of age-related changes in the lungs
Maximum lung function decreases with age. The amount of oxygen in the blood diffusing from the air sacs decreases. The air flow rate through the airways slowly decreases after 30 years. And the maximum power you can create while inhaling and exhaling decreases. However, even older people should have appropriate lung functions that allow them to carry out daily activities, because we have "reserve" lung function. That is why normal people tolerate the surgical removal of the entire lung and retain the ability to breathe fairly well the remaining lungs.
An important change for many older people is that the airways are blocked more easily. The airways are usually blocked when an elderly person breathes shallowly or when he is in bed for a long time. Breath is shallow because it causes pain. The disease or operation causes an increased risk of pneumonia and other lung problems. It is important for older people to stay in bed as little as possible, even when they are sick or after surgery. When this is not possible, spirometry would be helpful. It consists of using a small device to help keep the airway open and free from mucus.
As a rule, breathing is controlled by the brain. It receives information from various parts of the body, regulating the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Low levels of oxygen or high levels of carbon dioxide cause a change in the speed and depth of breathing. This is normal if even healthy older people have a reduced response to reduced oxygen and increased carbon dioxide levels.
The vocal cords (larynx) also change with age. This causes the pitch, volume and voice quality to change. The voice may become quieter and a bit hoarse. Height may become lower in women and increase in men. The voice may sound weak, but most people remain fully capable of effective communication with others.
Elderly people have an increased risk of lung infections. The body has many ways to protect against lung infections. With age, this ability weakens.
The cough reflex cannot be invoked with the same willingness, and the cough may be less strong. The inner surface of the lung is lined with cilia. With age, cilia are less able to move, reducing the ability to remove mucus and from the respiratory tract. In addition, the nose and airways release less of a substance called immunoglobulin A , antibodies that protect against viruses. Thus, older people are more susceptible to pneumonia and other lung infections.
Common lung problems in older people include:
– chronically low levels of oxygen, which significantly reduces resistance to the disease – reduced ability to carry out abnormal breathing, including sleep apnea (episodes of respiratory depression during sleep), – increased risk of pulmonary infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, and diseases caused by tobacco damage (such as emphysema or lung cancer).
Prevention of age-related changes in the lungs
-Quitting smoking is the most important way to minimize the effect of aging on the lungs. – Regular exercise helps to improve breathing power. – Exercise tolerance can be affected by changes in the heart, blood vessels, muscles and skeleton, as well as in the lungs. However, studies have shown that exercise and exercise can improve lung capacity, even in older people. – Older people need to be aware of the need to be on their feet and consciously try to increase deep breathing during an illness or after surgery. – Maintain voice communication, sing, read aloud. Further use of the voice helps to maintain overall communication with the community.