Ageing populations have focused policymakers on maintaining fitness to work in older adults. There is good evidence linking respiratory limitation to work disability. Our cross-sectional survey of adults aged 51-60 ('Lungs at Work') found significant associations between breathlessness, airflow obstruction and work performance in a general population; a follow-up survey conducted 18 months later examined changes in economic activity in this cohort.
A postal questionnaire enquired about changes in employment status. Cases experiencing employment change were frequency matched to referents of the same gender who reported no change (2:1 ratio).
Nearly all (94%) participants responded to the follow up questionnaire; all had been in full time work 18 months earlier. At follow up 10.9% were no longer working and a similar proportion were part time. 9.3% of participants reported changing their hours/activity at work for health reasons.
Economic inactivity rose with increasing breathlessness and airflow obstruction. Odds of dyspnoea or airflow obstruction at baseline were significantly higher in cases than referents.
These findings indicate significant burden of respiratory disability associated with job instability and ultimately workforce loss of older workers. Focusing health surveillance and targeting intervention on those at higher risk of employment problems could help maintain a more functional older workforce.