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Breathlessness limiting exertion in very old adults: findings from the Newcastle 85+ study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Dame Louise Robinson


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© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: INTRODUCTION: Long-term breathlessness is more common with age. However, in the oldest old (>85 years), little is known about the prevalence, or impact of breathlessness. We estimated breathlessness limiting exertion prevalence and explored (i) associated characteristics; and (ii) whether breathlessness limiting exertion explains clinical and social/functional outcomes. METHODS: Health and socio-demographic characteristics were extracted from the Newcastle 85+ Study cohort. Phase 1 (baseline) and follow-up data (18 months, Phase 2; 36 months, Phase 3; 60 months, Phase 4 after baseline) were examined using descriptive statistics and cross-sectional regression models. RESULTS: Eight hundred seventeen participants provided baseline breathlessness data (38.2% men; mean 84.5 years; SD 0.4). The proportions with any limitation of exertion, or severe limitation by breathlessness were 23% (95% confidence intervals (CIs) 20-25%) and 9% (95%CIs 7-11%) at baseline; 20% (16-25%) and 5% (3-8%) at Phase 4. Having more co-morbidities (odds ratio (OR) 1.34, 1.18-1.54; P < 0.001), or self-reported respiratory (OR 1.88, 1.25-2.82; P = 0.003) or cardiovascular disease (OR 2.38, 1.58-3.58; P < 0.001) were associated with breathlessness limiting exertion. Breathlessness severely limiting exertion was associated with poorer self-rated health (OR 0.50, 029-0.86; P = 0.012), depression (beta-coefficient 0.11, P = 0.001), increased primary care contacts (beta-co-efficient 0.13, P = 0.001) and number of nights in hospital (OR 1.81; 1.02-3.20; P = 0.042). CONCLUSIONS: Breathlessness limiting exertion appears to become less prevalent over time due to death or withdrawal of participants with cardio-respiratory illness. Breathlessness severely limiting exertion had a wide range of service utilisation and wellbeing impacts.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Johnson MJ, Pitel L, Currow DC, Forbes C, Soyiri I, Robinson L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Age and Ageing

Year: 2023

Volume: 52

Issue: 9

Print publication date: 01/09/2023

Online publication date: 01/09/2023

Acceptance date: 24/06/2023

ISSN (electronic): 1468-2834

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afad155

PubMed id: 37658750


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Funder referenceFunder name
British Heart Foundation
Dunhill Medical Trust
National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care
Newcastle University and NHS North of Tyne (Newcastle Primary Care Trust)
Unilever Corporate Research
Yorkshire Cancer Research