Psychological effects of COPD on seniors

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Chronic Obstructed Pulmonary Disease affects a lot of people in the United States. In 2010 alone, it claimed the lives of 134,676 people. Older adults who suffer from the disease often spent years smoking cigarettes. This ultimately leads to COPD for many people. This diagnosis encompasses several illnesses ranging from refractory asthma to chronic bronchitis. For older adults who suffer from COPD, they often suffer the most.


These individuals are already more likely to be left alone to care for themselves. They might struggle to maintain medication schedules and treat their symptoms adequately. They also often struggle to carry on strong interpersonal relationships. Women are specifically at risk for this. Of ladies over the age of 75, 46 percent live alone. Thus, loneliness is pretty commonplace for senior citizens in the United States. Those without family nearby seem to suffer even more.

Interestingly, loneliness is a common reason cited by people who engage in substance abuse. Some 40 percent of people report feeling lonely in today’s world. Among senior citizens, 43 percent say they feel lonely on a pretty regular basis. Some studies actually cite smoking as a health risk factor that is directly linked to loneliness. This means smoking is likely more common among people who feel lonely.

Depression and Anxiety

Those who smoke tobacco for years and end up with COPD are likely among the same groups of people who are more likely to develop depression to begin with. In addition, people who have COPD and comorbid depression are more likely to see both issues worsen in tandem. For instance, people with severe COPD tend to have more severe bouts of depression, too.

Furthermore, people who smoke are more likely to be depressed or anxious, too. In fact, studies show 18 percent of smokers experience anxiety and depression. Whereas, just 10 percent of non-smokers and 11.3 percent of smokers who have quit experience such.


COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. If we were to add to that the number of people who take their life that also suffer from COPD, it would likely be much higher. Yes, depression alongside COPD can be so turbulent that it brings with it suicidal ideation and even attempts at suicide. Suicidal thoughts aren’t much higher in people with stage I and stage II COPD at 16 percent than they are in the general population at 15.7 percent. However, people with stage III and stage IV COPD reported suicidal thoughts at a rate of 23.8 percent.

Statistics for actual attempts at suicide were similar. While the general population’s rate of suicide attempts is around 1 percent, individuals with stage I and stage II COPD report a suicide attempt risk of just 0.6 percent, while those in stage III and stage IV COPD were at 2.6 percent. People with COPD often suffer from a lower quality of life than they’ve previously been accustomed to. It can be difficult to adjust to a life where they miss out on the activities they once enjoyed and the lack of the lack of a social life.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "Psychological effects of COPD on seniors," in, January 30, 2017, (accessed August 11, 2022).