Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for lung conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It’s a chronic, progressive illness that causes symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, and chest infections.
The condition can have a significant effect on people’s quality of life. Along with physical symptoms, people with COPD are more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
As a caregiver, you’ll face many challenges. Watching someone you love deal with breathing complications can be difficult.
While there’s no cure for COPD, treatment can improve your loved one’s breathing. But they’ll also need your support. You may feel helpless at times, but there are plenty of ways to offer them encouragement.
1. Help them quit
The top cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. One way to support a loved one with COPD is to encourage them to stop smoking if they’re a smoker. Giving up cigarettes can slow disease progression and prevent worsening symptoms.
Help your loved one by researching nicotine replacement therapies (nicotine patch or nicotine gum), or research local and online support groups on their behalf. If you smoke cigarettes, set an example by quitting yourself. Or, avoid smoking in their presence.
2. Get active with them
Exercise can be difficult for someone with COPD, as it may increase breathlessness. At the same time, regular exercise can strengthen you loved one’s respiratory muscles and improve their breathing in the long term.
Getting started with an exercise routine can be intimidating for anyone. Offer to be your loved one’s exercise buddy. Workouts shouldn’t be strenuous, but gentle.
Start with short walks around the neighborhood or park. Gradually increase the speed and length of each workout as their body allows. As a precaution, ask their doctor about appropriate and safe exercises.
3. Keep yourself healthy
Respiratory infections can worsen symptoms of COPD. As a caregiver, keep yourself as healthy as possible. This includes getting an annual flu shot. If you come down with a cold or the flu, keep your distance until you’re no longer sick.
If you are sick and you live in the same house as someone with COPD, disinfect commonly touched surfaces every day, don’t prepare food, and wear a face mask to prevent spreading germs.
4. Keep indoor air clean
Reducing air pollution in the home can also help a person cope with COPD. Certain products can trigger a flare or worsen their symptoms.
If you’re assisting with the housekeeping, don’t use strong scented cleaning products around your loved one, especially if there’s poor ventilation. Also, steer clear of air fresheners or plug-ins. Be conscious of what you apply to your body. Wearing strong perfumes, lotions, or hairsprays can trigger a flare in people with COPD.
5. Help make their house COPD-friendly
Going the extra mile to make their home as COPD-friendly as possible is also a great help. The simplest tasks can cause breathlessness in someone living with moderate to severe COPD.
It might be difficult for them to create a more breathable space on their own. This is where you can help. For instance, install a shower chair in their bathtub. This way, they can sit down and conserve their energy while bathing.
You can also assist with preparing meals, dusting, and removing clutter, which is a breeding ground for dust.
6. Go along to their doctor’s appointments
Your loved one has a lot on their plate. It’s helpful for them to have someone else present at their appointments to remember what the doctor says.
You can come and take notes, or bring along a tape recorder. Recording information can make it easier for them to recall instructions later on.
7. Educate yourself about COPD
Not only should you attend their doctor’s appointments, but you should also educate yourself on COPD.
When you don’t live with the condition, it may be difficult to empathize with your loved one’s concerns. Sometimes, it’s not until you understand how the disease affects them that you begin to understand their limitations.
The more you know about COPD, the more helpful you can be in supporting your loved one.
8. Learn how to recognize signs of distress
Some people with COPD don’t want to burden their loved ones. They may not always be honest about how they feel.
As a caregiver, learn how to recognize signs of problems. COPD complications can include heart problems, respiratory infections, and depression.
If you notice a negative change in your loved one’s mood, encourage them to speak with their doctor or a therapist.
There’s no cure for COPD, but with treatment, your loved one can enjoy a better quality of life. As a caregiver, it can be difficult to watch someone you love deal with this condition. You may be emotionally overwhelmed at times, but your support and encouragement make a difference.
Not only should you take care of your loved one, but also yourself. To stay positive, make sure you take mental breaks and get plenty of rest. You can also look for a local support group for caregivers of people with COPD.