senior man coughing

Easily recognizable respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing can predict mortality in older people, with life expectancy differing by smoking status, reported researchers from Monash University in Australia.

In a new study of more than 2,000 older Australians with 22 years of follow-up, coughing among former smokers and wheezing among current smokers cut years from expected lifespan. In addition, shortness of breath raised mortality rates among smokers and non-smokers alike, wrote lead author Kate Petrie.

Based on their findings, the researchers estimated the remaining life expectancy of a 70-year-old male who has never smoked and has no respiratory symptoms at 16.6 years. In comparison, years of life lost for a 70-year-old male current smoker with cough, shortness of breath and wheeze is 4.93 years. About 3 years can be attributed to his current smoking and the remainder to his respiratory symptoms, Petrie wrote.

The finding that even non-smokers with shortness of breath are at risk suggests that seniors should not dismiss respiratory problems, she added. “If older people are experiencing even mild respiratory symptoms, they may benefit from visiting their general practitioner for further investigations.”

Read the study