Caring for someone with COPD
Helping someone with COPD can be rewarding, but it can also be a daily challenge. The keys to success: knowing how to help, getting support, and learning how to maintain a healthy balance in your own life.
Helping someone with COPD
It’s one thing to want to help, and another to know how to help. Here are some tips so you can be knowledgeable, efficient, and most importantly, caring.
Ask how you can help
It sounds simple, but it’s important to ask. Here’s why:
- They may want help, but they may feel awkward reaching out.
- They may want you to help out in certain ways. Don’t always assume you know “what’s best.”
- Sometimes they just want to “be heard.” Listening and “being there” can go a long way toward making them feel cared for.
Learn all you can about COPD
Understand what they are going through. If you’re new to caring for someone with COPD, here are good places to start:
- Understand the types of COPD. For example, do they have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, or both? These diseases are both forms of COPD, and a person can have one or both conditions.
- Know about the signs and symptoms of COPD and learn about COPD exacerbations. COPD is a progressive disease, so it’s important to report any worsening symptoms and exacerbations to their doctor.
- Learn how COPD changes over time. As they experience COPD progression from one stage to another, their treatment plan may need to change.
Help the one you care for stay on treatment
It’s one of the most important things you can do. By helping them stay on treatment and manage their symptoms, you may help them improve their lung function and maybe even reduce flare-ups.
Here’s how you can do your part:
- Make sure they go to each doctor appointment. Help schedule appointments and offer to take them if they have trouble driving or taking transportation.
- Encourage them to communicate and work with the different specialists on their healthcare team.
- Contribute to the conversation at doctor appointments so the doctor is aware of how the one you care for is doing and can prescribe appropriate treatment. Get discussion tips to make the most of every visit.
- Help them manage their medication routine, and ensure they take their medication exactly as prescribed.
- Be their “coach” and “cheerleader.” Help them set and work toward their COPD goals, and make time to celebrate their accomplishments, large and small.
Pitch in with daily chores and activities
Sometimes even the simplest everyday tasks can seem daunting for a person with COPD. You can help by offering to:
- Do household chores that require strenuous physical effort and exertion.
- Help with daily errands like grocery shopping or picking up dry cleaning.
- Simplify their living environment. Make items they use and need on a daily basis easily accessible by rearranging cupboards or shelving. If they live in a multistory dwelling, consider creating a bedroom or living space on the ground floor so they won’t need to use the stairs as often.
Caring for yourself
Taking care of your own physical and emotional health is important for both of you. Here are a few tips you may find helpful:
Follow a healthy lifestyle. It may sound basic, but it’s the foundation for a healthier you. Experts recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week, and sleeping 7-9 hours every night. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is also key. However, always check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.
Learn how to manage stress. You can’t “be there” for someone else if you’re feeling stressed or burned out. Meditation, yoga, deep-breathing techniques, regular exercise, and sleep are all great ways to reduce stress. Consider downloading a stress-reducing app on your smartphone.
Find a caregiver support group. Connecting with other caregivers and taking advantage of support resources can be reassuring and may even have a positive impact on your health. Check out our list of COPD caregiver resources to help find local and online support groups.
Take a “me” day. Take time to do nice things for yourself. Call family or friends to coordinate schedules and see who has availability to help out during your “me” days. Have a list of daily tasks and responsibilities ready to share with them when they’re “on call.”
Reach out for support
Even if you think “you’ve got this,” there may be days when you need support, too. You may want to start by reaching out to family members or trusted friends. You can also contact their healthcare team, your place of worship, or local hospitals to find out about caregiver groups in your area.
For additional support, go online and contact organizations that offer services for caregivers such as:
Lotsa Helping Hands
An online community that connects caregivers with volunteers. You post a request to create a care community and members of the community find ways to help you.
An online home for caregivers, providing tips, discussion lists, breaking news, topic-specific channels, expert answers, and e-newsletters.
Family Caregiver Alliance
Offers support, helpful information, and tools to manage the complex demands of caregiving.