Caregiver’s Guide

Caring for a loved one who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can lead to stress, frustration, and even a decline in your health. Learn what you can do as a caregiver.

Don’t compromise your health

The Family Caregivers Alliance reports that up to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed. Many caregivers also ignore their health issues. They may postpone medical appointments, fail to get adequate sleep, and have unhealthy eating and exercise habits.

A study in the American Journal of Nursing found that caregiving produces the same results as a chronic stress experience. Over time, this can lead to:

  • psychological stress
  • declining health
  • increased rates of illness
  • increased mortality rates

It’s important to make time for yourself, practice healthy habits, and ask for help if you need it. If you’re sick, it’s more difficult to care for your loved one. Take care of yourself. This will benefit you and your loved one.

Know the warning signs of stress and take action

You may find that you’re spending all of your waking hours focusing on the needs of your loved one. You may be:

  • trying to keep them comfortable
  • making sure they’re well-nourished
  • administering their medications
  • driving them to and from medical appointments

Stress may make you start to experience:

  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • weight gain or loss
  • feelings of being overwhelmed

Being a caregiver can wear out even the healthiest people. Here are some steps you can take to stay healthy without sacrificing the quality of care for your loved one:

Don’t feel guilty about asking for help

It’s impossible to do everything yourself. If you try, you’re bound to get sick. If that happens, it will become difficult to care for your loved one. There are ways you can avoid becoming overwhelmed and emotionally drained.

Many caregivers feel guilty about turning the responsibilities over to another person. This may be because they feel it’s their responsibility or because they don’t want to burden anyone else. However, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out how many people are willing to help.

Write down a list of ways you can delegate some caregiver responsibilities to other people. For example, you may delegate some responsibilities to:

  • a family member
  • a friend
  • a neighbor
  • a professional

Talk to each person about how they’d like to help. One person may be happy to visit your loved one for a few hours. This can give you some quality time for yourself to do things like going for a massage, eating lunch with a friend, or watching a movie. Someone else might offer to run errands for you, do some light housework, or prepare a meal.

Explore temporary care options

You can also bring your loved one to an adult care center for the day. Many churches and community centers offer this service. It’s a great way for those with COPD to talk with others and make new friends.

Hospitals provide medical care during the day. You can hire an in-home healthcare aide who can provide companionship and nursing care. Short-term nursing and assisted living homes can also provide quality care if you decide to go away on a vacation.

Make allowances for working while caregiving

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

This is a perfect example of why it’s important to enlist the help of others, whether it’s your coworkers 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 coworkers and supervisors informed about the status of caregiver duties that will impact your work availability.

Many times, coworkers and supervisors are willing to help ease your burden however they can. If you need to, you can also ask your loved one’s doctor to send a letter to your employer explaining the seriousness of your loved one’s condition.

Join a support group

Talking to other caregivers is a great way to find emotional support. Many communities have support groups where fellow caregivers offer advice and encouragement. You can learn new ways to stay healthy while being a caregiver from people who understand what you’re experiencing. Along the way, you may make some new friends. 

Check with your local hospital and the American Red Cross to see if they offer classes to help caregivers. They may even offer classes that are specifically for caregivers of people who have COPD.

Take time to exercise

Find some time each day to be physically active. Even a short walk around the block can help your mental and physical wellbeing. Exercise not only gets you away from a stressful environment, but it also gives you time to recharge for the next task.

Get a good night’s sleep

Although it may be difficult at times, try to get a good night’s sleep. Getting daily exercise, like a brief walk, should help improve your sleep. You can also practice 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

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet. Caregivers are often the first ones to neglect their diets. However, this is a time when you need your strength to perform your duties as a caregiver.

Talk to someone

You’re not alone. You can call a family member, a doctor, or a support group. There are also numerous organizations that offer advice for caregivers.