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COPD and breathlessness in older workers predict economic inactivity; a prospective cohort study

Publication date: 

15 Nov 2019


Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2019 Nov 15; 200(10): 1228-1233


Schofield SJ, Woods A, Szram J, Newman Taylor AJ, Cullinan P

Publication type: 



Rationale: There is an aspiration to retain increasing numbers of older workers in employment, and strategies to achieve this need to make provision for the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases with age. There is a consistent body of cross-sectional evidence that suggests that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more likely to have adverse employment outcomes. Objectives: We report the findings of the first longitudinal study of this issue. Methods: We recruited full-time employed men and women in their 50s and followed them for a period of 18 months; we examined, after adjustment for potential confounders, the associations between breathlessness and airway obstruction at baseline and loss of employment in the intervening period. Measurements and Main Results: Among participants responding to the follow-up questionnaire (1,656 of 1,773 [93%]), the majority (78.5%) continued in full-time employment, but 10.6% were in part-time employment and 10.9% were no longer in paid employment. The adjusted risk of loss of employment was significantly increased for those with moderate or severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (risk ratio, 2.89; 95% confidence interval, 1.80-4.65) or breathlessness (risk ratio, 3.07; 95% confidence interval, 2.16-4.37) at baseline. There was no evident modification by sex or by manual/nonmanual work. Conclusions: Airway obstruction and breathlessness are independently associated with premature loss from the workforce in older workers; these observations provide strong support to the available cross-sectional evidence and suggest that interventions to help those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who wish to remain in work need to be tested.