How to help as a COPD caregiver
If you're taking on the role of caregiver for a person with COPD, you'll have many new responsibilities. These may include keeping track of medications, attending doctors' appointments, and helping your loved one manage symptoms the best you can.
You should be prepared to feel frustrated and overburdened at times. On those days, try seeing things from your loved one's perspective. Many people with COPD feel alone with the disease. They miss the active lives they once led and are ashamed to be a burden to family and friends. Some empathy—and a huge dose of patience—may make you a better caregiver than you ever thought possible.
Remember, while caring for someone with COPD is a tremendous responsibility, the care you provide on a day-to-day basis will go a long way toward greatly improving his or her quality of life.
Sensible, solid advice that can make a difference day to day:
Depending on your loved one's symptoms and severity of disease, he or she may need to take a number of medications at different times throughout the day. To get the most benefit, it's important that these medications be taken as prescribed. Here are some ideas for making that easier:
- Always ask your healthcare provider including your pharmacists for clear, precise explanations and instructions regarding medications and devices.
- Ask for specific details about potential side effects and ways to avoid them.
- Write down all medical instructions so that the person with COPD can easily follow them.
- Remind the person with COPD that using a maintenance medicine as prescribed may help reduce COPD symptoms, exacerbations, and improve lung function.
One way to help minimize COPD worsening is to try and reduce factors that can aggravate the condition. Here are some ideas you can use right away:
- Eliminate secondhand smoke. Allow NO smoking around the person you care for.
- Try to keep the house clean and free from excess dust. Keep the bathrooms and sinks mold- and mildew-free.
- Make sure the cooking vent is working well so that cooking fumes can be drawn out of the house.
- Encourage the person with COPD to stay inside when air pollution levels are high.
- To help prevent infections, have the person you are caring for get a flu shot. Also try to stay away from large crowds in the fall and winter when the flu season is at its peak.
- Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of germs and have the person with COPD do the same.
Good nutrition is important for people with COPD for a number of reasons. First, breathing requires more energy for them. Next, good nutrition helps the body fight infections, and chest infections could lead to hospitalization for people with COPD. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Excess weight makes the lungs and heart work harder, so it's important to achieve an ideal body weight.
- Encourage plenty of fluids to help keep mucus thin and easier to cough up. But use caution if the person with COPD retains fluid or has a medical condition for which fluids should be restricted. Check with the doctor.
- If your loved one struggles with shortness of breath while eating, have small meals and snacks available throughout the day rather than serving three large meals.
For someone living with COPD, having fun may require a little creativity and some advance planning, but it can be done—and as the caregiver, you can help make it happen. And, it can be fun for you, too!
First step, focus on the things this person can do rather than what he or she can no longer do. Maybe she can't play tag with her grandkids, but she can be the “home base” they all run back to. If sitting in a movie theater for a couple of hours is out of the question, invite friends over for movie night instead.
Many times it's the feelings associated with an activity that make it enjoyable, not necessarily the activity itself. With some creative thinking—and a few adjustments—you can find ways to capture those feelings of joy and keep your loved one (and you) active.