The mistakes made 50 to 60 years ago continue to cause problems today. In the 1950s and 60s, experts encouraged people to smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes were supposed to relieve tension or help people stay alert. Today, we know the truth.
Now, many families cope with the reality of helping older loved ones who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third leading cause of death in America and more women than men die from COPD. Smoking is the primary risk factor – approximately 85 to 90 percent of COPD deaths are due to smoking. If a person breathes in dust, chemicals, or silica, it can also cause the respiratory ailment.
There is no cure for COPD, but there are treatments that can help. Many people may require continuous oxygen.
For those that provide elder home care services to those with COPD, it can be a physically and emotionally challenging process.
“Many times, for those who care for someone with COPD, there can be a feeling of resentment because the person smoked,” said Jane Martin, a respirator therapist and Associate Director of Education for the COPD Foundation.
Because people living with COPD need regular assistance, it puts a strain on their loved ones.
“It’s extremely common and really unfortunate,” Martin said. “It’s hard enough to care for someone who is ill and debilitated. It’s harder when the caregiver is angry. We encourage people to understand why their loved one may have started smoking and how it was extremely difficult to quit,” she said.
If you have concerns about a loved one and COPD, you should look for specific warning signs. A recurring cough, especially ones that are “productive” in the morning, can be a sign. As can shortness of breath. To be sure, you and your loved one should consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.
“Once you get tests done, you know what you are dealing with. You can’t assume that just being short of breath is COPD,” Martin said.
COPD can also present as chronic bronchitis, a long-term cough with mucus, or emphysema, destruction of the lungs over time. Many people with COPD experience a combination of both, which makes breathing more difficult. Martin says a classic position for people with COPD is if they are hunched and propped up on a table.
It is recommended that caregivers encourage people with COPD rest frequently, move slowly and use deep breathing techniques. A person with COPD can get tired when getting dressed or bathing. Due to these struggles, COPD can often lead to a more sedentary lifestyle.
“When a person has trouble breathing, even getting up and going to the bathroom can be hard. That means going for a walk is not in the plans,” Martin said.