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Language Barrier Hurts Elderly Asthma Patients

FRIDAY, Sept.6 (HealthDay News) -- Older people with asthma in the United States have a tougher time controlling the condition if they have poor English skills, a new study finds.

In a study of nearly 300 asthma patients aged 60 and older, researchers found that Hispanics with limited English ability had poor self-management of their condition and a lower quality of life than those with a good understanding of English.

Compared to non-Hispanics and Hispanics with good command of English, older Hispanics with limited English proficiency had the poorest asthma control, and were less likely to use inhaled medications such as corticosteroids, which can prevent symptoms.

The study was published in the September issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

"Effective asthma treatment requires appropriate self-management," study lead author Dr. Juan Wisnivesky, a pulmonologist affiliated with Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said in a journal news release.

Patients must be able to identify symptoms and administer as-needed and controller medications properly, he said.

"Language barriers can compromise patient-provider communication and obstruct asthma education efforts about these important topics, making it difficult for both patients and allergists to ensure optimal outcomes," Wisnivesky added.

When asthma is not properly controlled, patients are at increased risk for worsening symptoms and asthma-related death.

"Asthma is a serious disease that is often misdiagnosed and undertreated, especially within the aging population," Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in the news release. "It is important that all patients receive the same level of care and learn how to effectively manage their condition so they can lead active, healthy lives."

More than 11 million people in the United States have limited to no understanding of English, the news release noted.

Asthma patients facing language barriers should have a bilingual family member or friend accompany them to appointments, Fineman's organization suggested. They might also request asthma literature in their native language, ask the health care provider if a bilingual staff member is available, and attend a local patient support group, the group said.

Although the study found an association between poorer health and non-English-speaking patients, it did not prove cause and effect.

More information

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has more about older adults and asthma.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, news release, Sept. 4, 2012

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