Keeping an Active Lifestyle with COPD
I have to confess. I don’t use my walker all the time. I find that if I’m not trying to get anywhere too fast, or not on my feet for too long, I really don’t need it. Sure, I’m a little slower at everything I do now (getting dressed is almost a chore). But overall, I consider myself a pretty healthy eighty-eight-year-old -- and a pretty busy one too.
I go to an exercise class at the retirement community where I live twice a week, and have found that this not only helps build strength in my legs, but it builds the endurance in my lungs, which is especially important for me, because I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
I like to get dinner with friends and go on day trips with the other residents of my retirement community. Just recently I went on a bus trip to the Cleveland Art Museum to see a special exhibit on Impressionists painters. For that trip, I did bring my walker, since we walked around the museum for about two hours. I was tired and winded but not overly exhausted. Some days I’ll have lunch or dinner with my son, Bill who lives in town, and about once a year I travel to Minneapolis to visit my son, Jack, and family.
I started having breathing problems and experiencing shortness of breath in my mid-sixties, after several bouts of pneumonia. My primary care doctor sent me to a pulmonologist, who gave me a chest X-ray, did a pulmonary function test and several breathing tests. They also stuck a tube up my nose for a bronchial biopsy to figure out what exactly was reducing my lung function. I’ve been treating it ever since with an inhaler, and the occasional over-the-counter expectorant or stronger antibiotic. At that time, the doctor diagnosed me with bronchiectasis, which is basically a ballooning in the bronchial tube that causes mucus to get stuck and pool there.
Last year, I was hospitalized to drain some fluid that had gathered around my lungs. After that, my pulmonologist started referring to my condition as COPD. She put me on oxygen, which now I only use while I sleep. It’s not absolutely necessary to have my oxygen when I travel, so leave it at home. I will, however, request a wheelchair at the airport, as hustling to find my way to my gate can cause my COPD to flare-up.
I’ve been dealing with this condition for a little over 20 years, and honestly, I don’t notice that it’s gotten much worse. Of course, I’ve developed other issues with age like arthritis. I do have some heart problems -- my doctors say I have atrial fibrillation, a condition characterized by a rapid heart beat that often causes poor blood flow to the body. It’s common among people with COPD.
Most of the time I don’t even notice my condition, except I tend to get short of breath when I exert myself too much. But it doesn’t prevent me from doing all the things that I like to do -- exercising, traveling to visit family, and socializing with friends. Really, as long as I’m checking in with my pulmonologist (which is about every six months now) and monitoring my overall health, the COPD doesn’t bother me -- and I won’t let it.
I’m extremely grateful that I still live independently in my wonderful retirement community, have family close-by, and still get to do all the things I love.
Meg Watson is 88 years old and, despite her COPD, lives an active lifestyle in an independent apartment at a continuing care retirement community in Hudson, Ohio.