Of the more than 30 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), most are aged 65+. Because COPD is usually caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulates, cigarette smoking is a major risk factor. Serving as an informal caregiver for an aging in place loved one with COPD presents a unique set of caregiving challenges. Here’s how to provide your senior with the nurturing they deserve so that they can enjoy a higher quality of life.
What is COPD?
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two common medical conditions that contribute to COPD. When someone has COPD those conditions typically appear together, although symptoms may vary in their severity. More than 120,000 Americans die from COPD every year, making it the third-leading cause of death in the US.
Those with COPD have a higher risk for developing lung cancer, heart disease and other serious medical conditions. Although COPD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, it is treatable. By following a disease-management program most individuals with COPD can control the symptoms and enjoy fulfilling lives.
Caring for a Senior with COPD
When caring for a senior with COPD, your goal should be keeping them safe and comfortable. Take control of the situation by using these tips:
Be a patient advocate
First, educate yourself as much as possible about the disease, along with all the treatment options. Get permission to sit in on your loved one’s doctor’s appointments and come prepared to ask questions. Bring along a list of medications that your senior is taking, take notes during the visit, and be sure to read any information about their condition that’s provided to you.
Manage their meds
If your loved one has COPD, they probably have a lot of meds to manage- like pills, inhalers and more. Read all the labels carefully and then devise a good medication management program that helps ensure daily compliance.
Create a safe environment
If your loved one uses a walker or otherwise has trouble getting around, remove any potential trips hazards from their home like electric cords or throw rugs. Try to create a home environment filled with clean, smoke-free air, even if there’s another smoker living there.
Watch for flare-ups
COPD can be unpredictable, so watch for these signs that your senior might be experiencing a flare-up:
- Coughing or wheezing more than usual
- Getting increasingly short of breath
- Increase in mucus production, or a change in mucus color
If you suspect a flare-up contact your loved one’s doctor for further instructions. The sooner you get them treated, the less likely they are to end up in the hospital.
Encourage pulmonary rehab
After researching the pulmonary rehabilitation options in your area, encourage your loved one to take advantage of their services. Pulmonary rehab programs provide education, support and exercise that may improve your senior’s breathing and overall health.
Ask for help
Caring for a loved one with COPD can oftentimes feel like a full-time job. When you need to take some well-deserved time off don’t hesitate to ask family members and friends to pitch in. If no one you can trust is available, another option is hiring a professional respite caregiver from a