Our respiratory system consists of an airway and lungs on the one hand and a series of muscles on the other. The muscles activate the lungs which inhale and exhale air, capturing the oxygen needed for your blood.
As we age our bodies become less effective in capturing and using the oxygen we need for life. The muscles allowing us to breathe may deteriorate to such an extent that we have difficulty breathing. In other words, old age leads to structural changes in the respiratory system. This can have serious consequences and trigger acute respiratory failure.
For instance, elderly people are more likely to have a flattened diaphragm and limited mechanical action of the inspiratory muscles. Because of muscle weakness elderly people may find it difficult to cough, leading to mucus build-up in the lungs. This can further hamper efforts to breathe properly.
Acute respiratory failure often occurs in elderly people who already have conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or asthma. Pneumonia or influenza can be more direct triggers for the condition.