To obtain more accurate information about respiratory function in the elderly, we carried out spirometry and constructed maximum expiratory flow-volume curves in 136 volunteers over the age of 60 years (90 women, 46 men). Significant age related differences were found. Although vital capacity appeared well preserved in all groups, mid expiratory flow rates were low, even in lifelong non-smokers. On the basis of previous work, many of the subjects in this study would have been assessed as having small airways obstruction. The number of subjects is larger than in previous studies of airflow in this age group. Old people have often smoked, and many have a history of cardiovascular disease. Such individuals were included provided that they were fit and active for their age, and had no overt respiratory disease. It is argued that our findings will be of more clinical relevance to the elderly population than values derived either from population studies or studies that have used rigorous selection criteria to exclude subjects who smoked or had a history of non-respiratory disease.
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