Caregiver’s Guide

When your loved one suffers with COPD—and every precious breath they take is labored—it can be painful to watch, and may make you feel helpless. You want to do something, but you don’t know what. Being placed in this situation can lead to stress, strain, frustration, and even a decline in your own health.

Compromising Your Health Doesn’t Help the COPD Sufferer

In a report from the National Consensus Development Conference on Caregiving, the most common symptom caregivers experience is depression. What’s more, Peter Vitalinano, a professor of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Washington, and an expert on caregiving, said that the chronic stress of caring for someone could lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and a compromised immune system precipitated by a prolonged elevated level of stress hormones circulating in the body.

He compares these levels to those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. But when a loved one is counting on you for help coping with their COPD, it’s more imperative than ever to keep yourself as stress-free and healthy as possible.

Heed the Warning Signs of Stress and Take Action

You may find that you are spending all your waking hours focusing on the needs of the COPD patient—trying to keep them comfortable and well-nourished, administering their medications, and driving them to and from medical appointments. It’s enough to wear out the healthiest individual, which is why so often the caregiver starts to feel some of the same emotions and physical symptoms as the COPD sufferer: irritability, tiredness, gaining or losing weight, and feelings of being overwhelmed. In short, they experience classic symptoms of stress.

Here are some steps you can take to help yourself stay healthy—mentally and physically—without sacrificing the quality of care for your loved one.

Asking for Outside Help Without Guilt

It’s important to recognize that it’s humanly impossible to do everything yourself and if you try, you’re bound to get sick. If that happens, you won’t be able to care for your loved one. Keeping that in mind, there are ways you can avoid finding yourself so overwhelmed and spent emotionally that you’re of little or no help.

Many times the caregiver feels guilty about turning the responsibilities over to another, whether it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility, or they don’t want to burden another. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out how many people are waiting in the wings to be asked, but don’t know how to approach you with their help.

One good idea is to sit down and write a list of ways you can delegate some caregiver responsibilities to others, whether it be a family member, friend, neighbor, or professional. Speak with each person individually to discuss how he or she would like to offer help. One person may be happy to visit with the person for a few hours so you can have some quality time for yourself—a massage, lunch out with a friend, a movie etc. Someone else might volunteer to run errands for you, do some light housework, or prepare a meal.

Temporary Care Options

Another alternative to relieve the burden of stress as a caregiver is bringing your loved one to an adult care center for the day. Many churches and community centers offer this service and it’s a great way for COPD sufferers to converse with others and, perhaps, make new friends.

There are also hospitals that provide medical care during the day or you can hire an in-home healthcare aide who can provide companionship and/or nursing care. If you wish to take a short vacation to relax, refresh and renew your body, mind, and spirit, there are short-term nursing and assisted living homes that provide quality care while you are away.

Advice for the Working Caregiver

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, an estimated 25.5 million Americans struggle to balance working with caring for a relative age 50 or older. Trying to manage caregiver responsibilities and a full-time job is taxing on anyone of any age.

This is a perfect example of why it is important to enlist the help of others, whether it is your co-workers taking on some of your workload or others helping with your caregiver responsibilities. You may find your employer's human resource department provides support lines and referral services for working caregivers. Also, be sure to keep your co-workers and supervisors informed about the status of your caregiver duties, as it will impact your work availability.

Many times these people are willing to help ease your burden however they can. If needed, ask your loved one’s doctor to send a letter to your employer explaining the seriousness of your loved one’s condition.

Join a Caregivers’ Support Group and Learn From Others

Sharing your situation with other caregivers is a great way to find emotional support. Many communities have support groups where fellow caregivers offer advice and encouragement. You’ll find a wealth of ideas on how to stay sane and healthy throughout your caregiver role from people who know firsthand the difficulties caregivers face every single day. And along the way, you may just find some new friends. 

Check with your local hospital to see if they offer classes to help caregivers as well as the American Red Cross. There may even be classes available specifically tailored to COPD caregivers.

Find a Few Moments Each Day for Exercise

As mentioned earlier, it is imperative to you care for your own mental and physical health. Find some time each day to be physically active. Even a short walk around the block will do wonders to your mental and physical well-being. It not only gets you away from the stressful environment, it gives you time to recharge for the next task at hand.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Edward T. Creagan, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic says in his blog addressing caretaker stress that “compromising on sleep can compromise our thought processes and our judgment,” which has a ripple effect on our patients.

“We caretakers simply must take care of ourselves,” Creagan wrote.

Although it may be difficult at times, try to get a good night’s sleep. A little bit of daily exercise like a brief walk should help you sleep easier. Another way to ease into rest is to perform some deep breathing exercises before you go to sleep. You’ll find it helps clear your head and relaxes you as you drift off to sleep.

Eat Healthy

We’ve all heard it. The way to optimum health is a healthy diet. Well, it is true and optimum health is never been more important than when someone is relying on you every day for your support.

Caregivers are often the first ones to neglect their own diets in order to nurture their stricken loved ones. But this is the time you will need your strength to carry on your duties as a caregiver. Remind yourself daily that your loved one’s well-being is directly dependent upon YOUR well-being.

Most Importantly…

No matter how isolated you may sometimes feel, take heart in knowing you are never alone. Pick up the phone and talk to someone, whether it’s a family member, doctor, support group, or numerous organizations that offer advice to the caregiver. Do it and you’ll find a level of comfort and support merely a phone call away.