As a caregiver for someone with COPD, you know that your role is vital and challenging. You probably received guidance from a relevant health care provider, but that might not have included care for caregivers. While not offering any medical advice, we want to help by mentioning a few ways to handle your many duties more easily and to take care of yourself in the process.
Caring for Someone with COPD
As a non-medical caregiver, you contribute much to your loved one. Most often, you are responsible for daily care at home for a relative, spouse, or friend with COPD. Your duties might include
- monitoring your patient’s general health
- supervising and perhaps administering medications
- assisting as needed with oxygen use, nebulizers, or other equipment
- keeping track of medical appointments
- communicating with health care providers
- preparing food according to any dietary restrictions
- maintaining a safe, clean environment
- providing emotional support and encouragement
Other caregivers strongly recommend that you stay as organized as possible. Keep a diary in which you note the date and time of any changes in your loved one’s condition. Record times and dosage of medications and oxygen use. This information could help the doctor decide on appropriate treatment as the disease progresses. In addition, keep careful records of medical appointments and notes of communications with doctors and other professionals.
It is especially important to plan ahead to obtain and prepare food that meets their dietary requirements. Those requirements can vary according to the type of COPD and other factors such as the need to gain or lose weight. Other factors like diabetes or hypertension also affect an afflicted individual’s diet. (For additional information about nutrition, please see our previous blog post, COPD, Asthma, and You: How Diet Can Make a Difference (https://bit.ly/32SpFCu).
To protect someone with breathing difficulty, try to keep the household environment as free of dust and airborne pollutants as possible (see COPD, Asthma and You: Biological Allergens). This means that you might have to ask visitors or other family members who smoke to do so entirely outside the home. Likewise, persons who have symptoms of respiratory infections or illness might need to return at a later time to visit.
If you need to assist with use of breathing or medication devices (nebulizers, oxygen use, etc.), take time to learn how they function, the correct dosages, and what to do if problems arise. This is especially important when traveling since you will need to plan how much medication or oxygen will be needed and what to do in case of unexpected delays or medical issues.
Care for Caregivers
Chronic illness such as COPD brings significant change to both patient and caregiver. Accordingly, caring for someone with COPD can take a toll on you as caregiver. The number and intensity of daily tasks can seem overwhelming, especially if you are also caring for children, trying to hold down a job, or coping with health problems of your own.
When caring for a loved one with COPD, you might encounter changes in the relationship. COPD sufferers sometimes feel guilty for becoming a burden, especially when they cannot do things that they once did or enjoyed. Caregivers can feel that they are not doing enough to help or, conversely, that there is too much to do. Therefore, it is vital to keep communication of feelings open, to let one another know how the situation is affecting each of you emotionally.
One simple reminder can help: never tell someone with COPD to hurry. Difficulty with breathing often makes it hard for them to keep up, and not keeping pace can arouse strong feelings of guilt or resentment. Try to allow them as much time as necessary to get where they want to go.
When providing care for someone with COPD, you should seek help when you need it. Other family members, friends, or neighbors might assist with meal preparation, running errands, cleaning, or emotional support. This is especially important if you are among the 50% of caregivers who work outside the home.
Frequently after exacerbations that result in a hospitalization or as the disease progresses, the vast majority of caregivers understandably experience anxiety and depression. If this happens to you, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance from a licensed psychotherapist to work through these feelings and to learn constructive methods for coping.
Unfortunately, other caregivers often report that they have cut back on getting together with relatives and friends or other social activities. Remember, though, that caregiving is often stressful and that it can last for many years. Therefore, it is important to schedule some “me time” for yourself, to engage in social activities with individuals or groups. Socializing or other activity away from your caregiving tasks should become part of your regular routine, not simply done “whenever possible.”
Many available resources that can help you cope more successfully. For example, several organizations addressing COPD offer educational information, tips for caregiving, and links to support groups for caregivers. Here is a brief list:
- Caring for the Caregiver: How to Support a Loved One with Lung Disease (from the American Lung Association)
- Better Breathers Club (a national organization of local support groups sponsored by the American Lung Association)
- Self-Care for the COPD Caregiver (helpful tips from Everyday Health)
- Caregivers and COPD: Finding a Support Group (information about how to find local and online support groups from the Lung Health Institute)
- Caring for Individuals with COPD (important educational information about communication, infection, depression, travel, and taking care of yourself from Today’s Caregiver)
- Caregiving Tips for a Loved One with COPD (important suggestions and links to additional information from WebMD)
- The COPD Caregiver and FAQ for Caregivers (two very significant sources of information from COPD Foundation)
Above all, remember that you’re not alone. There are many people who have been caregivers and who are anxious to help. Reach out to them.