The Respiratory System

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The goal of the respiratory system is to supply the body with the right amount of oxygen. It works hand in hand with the cardiovascular system to successfully circulate the oxygen throughout the body. All body organs in the body require oxygen, therefore it is a vital source to the human body. Age related changes to the respiratory system are usually subtle and gradual, therefore, usually go undetected until there are critical effects. Complications occur when there are chronic conditions, anesthesia, or other complicating factors affecting the efficiency of the respiratory system. The main indicators of age-related changes can include: decrease in tidal volume, increased residual volume, decreased forced expiratory volume, decreased forced inspiratory volume, decreased total lung capacity, and decline in arterial blood pressure. (Miller, 2015)

The topics I would include in a health education program designed for adults on the prevention of pneumonia and influenza would include the following:

  • education on Knowledge about Health Behaviors
    • Information about immunizations
    • teach about egg allergies
    • Outcome: clients are encouraged and obtain immunizations against pneumonia and influenza
  • Promotion of Respiratory wellness
    • teaching about tobacco/smoking cessation
      • would be considered secondary and tertiary prevention

Older Adult patients may have attitudes towards the cessation of smoking, or to take care of themselves overall. Therefore, it is important that as nurses and nursing students, we tell the patient that stopping smoking is more beneficial for the health than to continue to smoke. As a nurse, it is also crucial to create SMART goals that the patient and nurse feel is appropriate for the diagnosis. Encourage the patient to understand and make an effort to understand the education provided by nutritionists, physical therapist, etc. This will create a sense of independence for the older adult and will allow them to feel as they have flexible and adaptable skills to practice.


There are many age-related changes that affect the older adult community regarding the respiratory system. Although smoking is a major risk factor in respiratory illnesses, “even non-smokers have diminished respiratory efficiency and reduced total pulmonary function” as they age (Miller, 2019). Because of age-related risk factors, there is a much higher rate of illness and death related to lower respiratory infections such as influenza and several types of pneumonia (Miller, 2019).

It is important as nurses that we provide education to older adults on the risk factors and ways to lessen the incidence of respiratory issues. Some of the risk factors that I would include are changes in the respiratory tract, diminished physiologic reserve, decreased immune function, and cumulative effects of exposure to pollution (Miller, 2019). The most important education to address would be the debilitating effects of cigarette smoking on the respiratory system, including cancer, as well as a risk for heart disease, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. There is a multitude of resources involving the effects of smoking and the importance of cessation. The two resources with a large amount of research and literature on the effects of smoking are the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association. When older adults have smoked cigarettes for decades, they feel like if they haven’t had any lung or heart issues yet that there is no point in quitting. It is important that they understand that they can still change the course of their life even if most of their life included smoking.

In addition to education on the importance of smoking cessation, it is important to educate older adults on the higher susceptibility of pneumonia and influenza, due to a weakened immune system, among other factors. Although there is not an absolute way to prevent those illnesses from happening, education can lower the incidence of these respiratory issues. In my education I would include the importance of handwashing, avoiding hand to mouth and hand to eye contact, breathing in particles when someone coughs and sneezes, avoiding large crowds during flu season, and most importantly up to date vaccinations on influenza and pneumonia (Miller, 2019). There are many older adults that are unaware that there is a pneumonia vaccine. Even though there is no way to completely prevent lower respiratory infections in aging adults, the more we educate, the more we reduce the mortality rate of respiratory-related problems.

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