Although having COPD may sometimes make you feel like no one knows what you’re going through, statistics show otherwise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported in 2011 that more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. Worldwide, the number of COPD sufferers balloons to an estimated 64 million people, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of 2011.
What do the numbers mean? That there are many avenues of support open to you. Your doctor and healthcare team will help to manage your condition through treatment decisions and medical guidance. Your family, coworkers, and friends can provide emotional, practical, and social support. And you can manage your symptoms by following your doctor’s instructions.
You’re the one living with COPD, but many people in your life also will be affected by it. At first, you may feel guilty relying on others more than usual, but it’s important to recognize that there will be times when you can’t help yourself. Allowing others to assist you can make everyone feel better. Your needs for assistance will vary, depending on the day, but learning to ask for and accept help when you need it is a critical part of managing your disease.
Support at Home
One of the results of having a chronic condition like COPD is that tasks you once performed easily will become more difficult to do yourself. The people in your life may have differing capacities to help you, and family members are often in the best position to lend support. When you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, it can be helpful to lean on loved ones—especially those who live with you.
Your condition might change the roles, goals, and plans of everyone in your family, which may create some challenges. Talk to your family about what they can do that will be the most helpful to you. It’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to pursue treatment and support. The National Emphysema Foundation (NEF) recommends the following ways that family members can lend a hand:
- Learn everything they can about COPD and your specific medications and treatments
- Help encourage you to remain active and independent to the extent that your condition allows
- Assist with chores around the house and offer to handle other tasks that contribute to a smooth-running household
Support at Work
If your doctor has cleared you for working with your condition, it’s important to line up a support system at work to ensure that you’re managing your condition safely. The NEF recommends speaking candidly with your employer about it, so your manager and co-workers will be aware that at times you’ll need to rest. This is particularly true if you have an asthmatic component to your COPD, as you’re more susceptible to acute attacks while you’re working and may need to take inhaled medications.
Learning to delegate responsibility is another way that you can enlist the support of colleagues. Follow these guidelines for taking a team approach and letting others share the load:
- Assign responsibility to a specific co-worker so that there’s no confusion regarding ownership
- Give clear instructions and deadlines with delegated tasks
- Take time to provide training on the specific duties needed
Support from Friends
Social support is the single most important buffer against stress, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, friends may not know what you need as well as family members do. Suggest the following ideas to those who want to help but don’t know how:
- Being available to provide emotional support by allowing you to talk through your feelings
- Attending medical appointments with you, or picking up prescriptions for you
- Helping you complete small chores or errands that are difficult for you to do on your own
- Providing encouragement to help you stick to your treatment plan
Support from Your Doctor
Your doctor is in charge of deciding upon and administering your treatment plan, but you can help manage your health more effectively by clearly communicating your needs and concerns. The Cleveland Clinic recommends taking the following actions to maximize your office visits and help your healthcare team support you best:
- Keep a journal to record details about your symptoms and changes in how you feel. Bring this information to your medical appointments
- Bring a list of specific concerns about COPD and your treatment plan to your doctor appointments. Write down the doctor’s answers to your questions so you can refer to them later
- Ask your doctor to explain other types of services that might enhance your treatment, including physical therapy, counseling, nutritional consultation, or local COPD support groups
Your loved ones, employer, and healthcare support team can all lend a hand in easing the challenges of living with COPD if you let them. By taking a proactive approach and letting others know when you need their help, you can better manage your condition.