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

Publication Name

Age and ageing


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.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access





Funding Sponsor

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council



Link to publisher version (DOI)