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Purpose Special considerations in the selection of medication inhaler devices for elderly patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the ambulatory care setting are reviewed.
Summary Substantial deficiencies in inhaler device technique and medication adherence are evident in patients with COPD, leading to suboptimal health outcomes. As the prevalence of COPD rises with age, elderly patients pose special challenges with regard to inhaler device selection. In elderly patients with sufficient cognitive function, manual dexterity, and hand strength, the most influential factors in inhaler selection are cost reimbursement, device availability, device convenience, and patient preference. Cost reimbursement may be a deciding factor in device selection, as nearly all elderly patients are Medicare beneficiaries. Nebulizers provide a cost-effective alternative to pressurized metered-dose inhaler (pMDI) and dry powder inhaler (DPI) devices. DPI device availability is limited to “controller” medications, while pMDI devices and nebulizers provide complete symptomatic coverage. Multiple-dose DPIs offer the convenience of rapid medication administration, ease of handling, and integral dose counters. Given the availability and expenses of medication devices, ambulatory patients may prefer combining the convenience of a hand-held inhaler (i.e., pMDI) as a rescue medication during the active hours of midday with the cost savings of a nebulized controller medication in the morning and at night.
Conclusion In elderly patients with sufficient cognitive function, manual dexterity, and hand strength, the most important factors in inhaler device selection are cost reimbursement issues, device availability, device convenience, and patient preference. Pharmacist knowledge of appropriate inhaler technique, competent patient education and demonstration, and follow-up assessment are instrumental in optimizing device competency and medication adherence.