More than 13 million Americans live with a disease that makes every breath they take difficult. November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month. The diagnosis of COPD often comes as a shock but it then changes how a person lives each day. COPD causes airways to become partially blocked, making it hard for a person to breathe. There is no cure, but there are ways to slow down its progression. A trained and knowledgeable caregiver can make sure a person living with the lung disease gets the best elder care possible.
There are six key ways to help a person with COPD that a caregiver should learn about:
1. Create a Safe Environment: A person with COPD becomes more vulnerable to their surroundings as the disease progresses. Not only can a dusty home cause breathing problems, but their breathing problems also raises their risk for a dangerous fall. It’s helpful to go through a COPD patient’s home to find the possible dangers and remove them.
- Get rid of throw rugs on the floor and other tripping hazards like electrical cords.
- Put safety bars in bathrooms, showers, and along walkways both inside and outside the home so they have a way to support themselves in an emergency.
- Make sure a home is well lit so there are no hidden obstacles.
- Keep them away from a smoker because that causes difficulty with breathing.
- Make sure any emergency numbers are in a visible location.
2. Practice Communication: A person with COPD is often short of breath. That means talking can literally take their breath away. They should know it is OK to take their time speaking. Help them talk in short phrases or sentences and make sure they know to pause when they need so they can rest.
3. Help them Conserve Energy: For a person with COPD, becoming breathless is frightening. They don’t know when that feeling might end. They need to know they can pace themselves so they don’t get out of breath. It’s also a good idea to teach energy conservation techniques:
- Stay organized, putting the most strenuous activities early in the day when they have the most energy. You should also organize their entire home so items that get frequent use are easy to get to. Additionally, keep duplicates around of frequently used items. Have a trash can in each room, have a vacuum cleaner upstairs and another downstairs, this repetition cuts down on the unnecessary use of energy.
- Plan out rest periods and avoid any activities that really aren’t necessary. For example, get them a terry cloth robe to wear after a shower so they don’t have to go through the effort of drying off.
- Remind them to maintain good posture to avoid too much bending or lifting.
- Help them practice ways to relax. This restores energy to the entire body. When a person focuses on relaxing their muscles and slowing down their breath, it is rejuvenating.
- Make sure they ask for help. If there is something they know will put strain on their body, they need to know others can do it for them. A person with COPD should not take it upon themselves to scrub floors or move furniture. Family, friends or professional caregivers can come to their aid – they just need to ask.
4. Control Meals: Many people with COPD become short of breath while they eat and that can lead to malnutrition. The muscles used to breath burn 10 times the calories in a person with COPD. That means a person with COPD has to make sure they eat enough, but the fear of losing their breath during a meal often cuts down on calorie intake. To make sure that doesn’t happen, they need to learn ways to safely eat.
- Eat small, more frequent meals through the day instead of just a few large meals which require more effort.
- Rest and store up energy before a meal.
- Eat slowly and make sure there is plenty of time give – there is no reason to rush through a meal.
- Avoid foods that require a lot of chewing
5. Exercise: It may seem odd to encourage an activity that can make someone out of breath, but exercise improves how the body uses oxygen, improves breathing and decreases other symptoms, helps the heart, lowers blood pressure, helps circulation, and builds up energy in a body so there is more to draw upon. When a person with COPD exercises, they should make sure and stretch and focus on breathing exercises to stay safe.
6. Plan Ahead for Trips: This can range from trips in the car to an appointment or the grocery store, to longer vacations on a plane. A person with COPD does not have to stay homebound. When a person with COPD goes anywhere, they need to make sure they bring medication and oxygen if it is required. If they are going on a plane, make sure there is a conversation with the airline ahead of time. Most airlines do not allow oxygen on board so they need a prescription and/or a doctor’s letter. Altitude may also change how much oxygen a person needs, so talk to a medical professional ahead of time to make sure the travel is done safely.
A person with COPD may need more time to do things, but it doesn’t mean they have to stop living. Armed with knowledge and help from others, they can stay independent and maintain a quality of life they are used to and deserve.
The tips and information in this article were gathered from About.com and WebMD.com.