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How Caregivers Can Help With COPD Treatment

By

Elizabeth Hanes, RN

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At least 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), according to the Centers for Disease Control. COPD is the name given to a group of breathing disorders that can include emphysema, bronchitis and even asthma. Because COPD cannot be cured, patients may have to live with it for a long time.


Caregivers who have family members with COPD play an important role in the support and treatment of a loved one with this disease. Here are five ways you can help:

1. Support lifestyle changes and new, healthy habits.

When your loved one is diagnosed with COPD, his or her doctor likely will recommend certain lifestyle changes to improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Some of these lifestyle changes—such as quitting smoking—are difficult without the support of friends and family members. Caregivers can help with these lifestyle changes:

  • Work with your family member to tackle one change at a time so the process doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

  • Encourage the adoption of healthy habits, like eating well and taking dietary supplements the doctor prescribes.

  • Provide positive reinforcement as your loved one adheres to the care plan, even when they slip up occasionally. Change often is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.

2. Design a medication schedule.

Right after diagnosis, your loved one might return from the doctor’s office with a host of new medications to take, from pills to inhalers. Since many people with COPD are older and may already have a medication routine, this influx of new meds can feel like a major complication to the established process.

As a caregiver, you can help your loved one stay on track by writing down a medication schedule, setting medication reminders on your phone (or your loved one’s phone), or even using a smartphone app for this purpose. And don’t forget about vaccinations. People with COPD have a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu or pneumonia. Make time to get all the recommended vaccinations—for you and the person with COPD.

3. Assist with transportation to appointments.

Your loved one with COPD may need to attend regular pulmonary rehabilitation appointments to keep his or her lungs functioning as well as possible. If your loved one no longer drives or needs help getting motivated to attend these appointments, offer to drive—or arrange for someone else to be the chauffeur.

4. Help with oxygen therapy management.

If the doctor has prescribed oxygen therapy, you can help by managing various aspects of home oxygen therapy, such as:

  • Changing the nasal cannulas, tubing and humidifier bottles on a schedule.
  • Learning how to attach a regulator to a portable oxygen bottle.
  • Knowing what to do and who to call if a home oxygen concentrator stops working.

5. Take care of yourself.

Caring for a family member with any chronic disease can be very rewarding as you forge a closer bond with your loved one. However, caregiving also can be stressful and time-consuming. It’s important to recognize that you cannot provide care to another person if your own emotional tank is empty. Be sure to take time for self-care activities, such as:

  • Obtain respite care, either from another family member or from a professional agency.
  • Schedule time to engage in a soothing activity, such as a bubble bath, reading a book, or any other activity you find relaxing.
  • Socialize with your friends, other family members, or your spouse.

As a chronic condition, COPD requires lifetime management. When you assist a family member with COPD treatments, you can feel good knowing you are helping them maintain their lung function for as long as possible.


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 24, 2015

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. How Is COPD Treated?  National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/treatment
  2. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html
  3. COPD Treatments and Drugs. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/basics/treatment/con-20032017

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