Help Your Parents Get Help

Being diagnosed with any condition can be hard to deal with. If you have a parent you think may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and they either don't want to see a doctor or think they can handle things on their own, you may have to help them help themselves.

Remember that COPD is a chronic condition, meaning that it is not going to go away, so it must be dealt with if one expects to live with the best possible quality of life. When COPD goes untreated, people with the condition will see a dramatically decreased quality of life.

Recognizing Denial

"Being faced with a chronic illness, or condition, is one of the most common reasons people experience denial," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Understanding how to deal with denial can help you help your parent push through the denial and get the care they need to effectively deal with their condition. You also should understand that, in most cases, denial rarely happens consciously. More often than not, however, the person in denial does not even realize they are, and this may make it even more difficult to help them through their situation.

Your parent may be experiencing denial for any number of reasons, but one extremely common reason is the symptoms may not seem severe when first diagnosed. This being the case, many COPD patients simply think it's not so bad.

An older adult might be hesitant to accept a COPD diagnosis due to a lack of awareness of the disease. Many of the symptoms, if evaluated out of context, can seem like something else. It is much easier for an aging parent to rationalize their shortness of breath with any number of other causes. Especially when you're dealing with a chronic disease that has no cure, there's strong motivation to think the symptoms are caused by something else. These are typical denial responses.

Coping With Denial

One of the first things you should do when helping a loved one cope with denial is to step back and determine if your parent needs time to work through their situation.

Next, let your parent know that you are willing to listen when they are ready to talk. It can be uncomfortable for both sides, so knowing that you are willing to talk about it may give them enough comfort to open the conversation.

?Be upfront about your concerns and your desire to help your parent get whatever help they may need. The thing is, you will need to lead your parent to get the treatment he or she needs. And being a good listener, and responding to what your parent is saying, puts deposits in the goodwill bank and makes your parent much more likely to accept your help to improve their situation.

Once you get the conversation started, you may suggest your parent try one of these strategies to help overcome their denial:

  • Think about what you're really afraid of.
  • Think through what might actually happen if you do nothing.
  • Give yourself permission to be afraid and show it.
  • Look for beliefs you hold about your situation and evaluate if they are rational or not.
  • Journal about your experience. Write about how you feel and what you do in a journal. This is just for you. Nobody else will see it.
  • Talk to someone you can trust. Family and friends can be a great support system.
  • Join a support group.

Getting Mom or Dad to the Doctor

Once you have gotten your parent to open up to the possibility they have COPD, the next step is to get them to the right physician so they can be diagnosed.

You should see a specialist—a pulmonologist—for proper diagnosis and treatment of COPD. The pulmonologist will take many factors into account in diagnosing the condition, but one of the most important of these factors is the result of lung function tests. Whether using a peak flow meter, or a more sophisticated spirometry test, the pulmonologist will test and assess the patient's breathing, measure how much air they can breathe in and out, how fast they can breathe air in and out, and how well their lungs deliver oxygen to their blood.

Facing a condition that is incurable can seem like a lot to swallow, but one of the silver linings with COPD is that many effective treatments exist.

Obviously, if your parent smokes, the first line of defense is to quit. This is only the first step. There are many medications and therapies that can help someone with COPD cope with their condition. There are nearly a dozen different COPD prescription medications, including bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids. Other treatments include pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab), oxygen therapy, and surgery. Surgery is usually reserved for the more severe cases, but it is an option if the circumstances warrant it.

Knowing what symptoms to look for, helping your parent overcome denial and seek proper diagnosis and treatment are all things that can help you help your aging parent effectively cope with COPD.

Stay informed, as new medications and treatments are being evaluated all the time. And, keep the lines of communication with your parent and their health care providers open. Take these steps and you improve the chances of minimizing COPD’s negative impact on mom or dad’s quality of life.