If you have a loved one with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), you might be wondering:
How can I best support their care and well-being?
COPD creates new challenges both for patients and their families. Depending on the severity of the illness, there might be new medications, significant lifestyle changes, regular doctor appointments, and new respiratory equipment. These challenges can become frustrating for patients and difficult for family members to keep track of.
In this article, we will discuss what it means to be a caregiver to your loved one with COPD and go over practical ways to manage the various challenges that go along with caregiving.
What is a Caregiver?
Google defines a caregiver as "a family member or paid helper who looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person."
When a loved one is diagnosed with COPD, you may find yourself taking on the role of a caregiver without realizing it. While some people have the means to hire nurses and other healthcare professionals to assist with home care, the vast majority of caregivers are family members.
Although many people will gladly take on the role of a caregiver without a moment’s thought, there are some essential questions to ask yourself beforehand:
Am I financially prepared for the extra costs of being a caregiver?
Providing care to a family member comes with additional costs. You may be driving your loved one to appointments, paying co-payments, or paying for medications. The impact of these costs will depend on your loved one’s insurance coverage, but you should prepare for unforeseen expenses as a caregiver.
Can I do this on my own?
If you are relatively healthy, you may think you can take on the extra tasks of being a caregiver without a problem. However, caregiving does take its toll over time. You should consider whether you will honestly be able to handle caregiving on your own, or whether you will need to seek outside help early on.
Will I be able to make time for my responsibilities?
Caregiving often means frequent and lengthy time commitments, so you should be prepared to balance your personal life with the medical needs of your loved one.
The Duties of a Caregiver
The tasks of a caregiver are extensive. Some duties might include:
- Monitoring medication
- Preparing meals
- Car rides to doctor appointments
- Managing medical equipment
- Assessing the need for medical attention
In addition to these tasks, you will also become a patient advocate. At times during any of the duties listed above, it may be necessary for you to step in and directly discuss care plans or instructions to provide accurate information.
How to Support Your Loved One During a Doctor Appointment
Doctor appointments are important throughout the course of COPD treatment. Your loved one’s doctor must know about various symptoms and treatment outcomes to make critical changes when necessary.
Attending a doctor appointment is a skill that many people do not take seriously enough. It is easy to believe that we will remember relevant symptoms and physical changes during a doctor appointment, but that is rarely the case.
Therefore, we will discuss a few important skills that you can learn, as a caregiver, to help your loved one during a doctor appointment:
1. Write Down Your Questions Before the Appointment
While this sounds like common sense, it is surprisingly routine for people to visit their doctors without notes or questions prepared. Ask your loved one to keep a list of concerns—or create one yourself—beforehand, so when it comes time to see the doctor you are equipped with talking points.
2. Bring a List of Medications
It is also essential to bring a list of active medications along with a dosage schedule so the doctor can make sure the current treatment is still appropriate.
3. Ask the Doctor to Repeat Information or Provide Written Instructions
During the appointment, the doctor might go over many different things, so it is important that your loved one is able to grasp the information as it comes. While asking the doctor to repeat information is helpful, the best way to ensure accuracy is to ask that any instructions be provided in a written summary.
How to Support Your Loved One at Home
Whether you live with your loved one or not, there are many ways to support him or her at home as a caregiver:
Understand the Signs and Symptoms of a COPD Exacerbation
Your loved one might know when an exacerbation is happening, but if they are unable to verbalize how they feel for some reason, it is crucial that you understand the various signs yourself such as:
- Increased coughing
- Audible wheezing
- Blue fingers or lips
- Difficulty speaking
- Increased mucus production
- Swelling of the hands and feet
Not all of these symptoms are present during a COPD exacerbation. You may only notice one or two at a time. However, becoming familiar with all of them will help you assess the need for urgent medical attention.
Help to Quit Smoking
If your loved one is still smoking, you may need to encourage him or her to quit. While this may take some time, especially if they have been smoking for many years, there are resources available to help you gently motivate the need to quit.
Some people with COPD learn to avoid exercise because it can trigger an exacerbation. However, exercise is still important to help strengthen the breathing muscles and practice breathing techniques. Taking walks with your loved one is a great way to get them moving and also to help improve their mood.
Learn and Cultivate Patience
As a caregiver, it can be challenging to adjust to the demands of providing regular assistance to someone else. You may find yourself losing patience over the smallest tasks. Learning to cultivate patience will give you the perspective to empathize with your loved one’s condition and help them feel supported.
Find Non-Irritating Home Cleaning Supplies
Many typical home cleaning supplies such as floor cleaners, detergents, and aerosols can exacerbate COPD symptoms. Consider going through your loved one’s home to remove all potential lung-irritating solutions and replace them with non-toxic and natural cleaners.
Rearrange the Home for Easy Access
As COPD progresses, it becomes more difficult to perform tasks that were once easy such as retrieving supplies from the garage or pulling down bulky items from the cabinet. Consider talking with your loved one about the best way to rearrange items in his or her home so things can be accessed easily without risking injury.
Have an Emergency Plan
When a COPD exacerbation is coming on, symptoms can get worse very quickly. It is important to have a detailed plan about what your loved one should do when his or her symptoms get worse, and whom to call for help if you are unable to get there for some reason.
Where to Seek Outside Help
As a caregiver, it is important to remember that you are not alone. If you do not have the extra support of paid professionals or other family members, there are other helpful resources worth looking into.
First, you should ask a doctor about pulmonary rehab as soon as possible. With pulmonary rehab, your loved one will get professional guidance on various skills such as proper nutrition, breathing exercises, fitness, and disease education. This type of training is essential to regain a sense of control over the illness and his or her life.
Additionally, there are great resources out there that provide helpful tips on being a caregiver such as best practices, new laws, and educational classes.
As a caregiver, you will provide some of the essential care your loved one will ever receive. It is important that you have the best resources to help you succeed so you can maintain a healthy balance between caring for your loved one and caring for yourself.
For more information about COPD, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.