COPD Caregiver Perspectives - Four Important Ways YOU Can Help Your Loved One Live Their Best Life

  • It's not easy being a caregiver for a person with COPD. I have lived that role and I empathize with those of you still going through it. But keep in mind that it's not easy living with COPD either. Imagine that everything you do, including things you take for granted, such as breathing, going to the toilet or eating a meal, exhausts you, leaving you spent and weary of mind and spirit. That's what it's like to live with COPD.


    But since your loved one has you as a caregiver, how fortunate they are! You can ease the burdens of their life at least a little and help them live a better quality of life overall by taking a few fairly simple steps.

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    1. Support them in adapting to a healthier lifestyle.


    Of course, the most important lifestyle change a person with COPD can make is to quit smoking. And hopefully, they have already done that. But the cravings can continue for many months or years (or even forever!), so it will help if you recognize that.


    If you smoke, don't ever do it anywhere around your loved one or in their home. Secondhand smoke can also be harmful and also provides temptation where it is not needed.


    By the way, when you're thinking about keeping secondhand smoke away from your loved one, also bear in mind that strong scents from candles, perfume, air fresheners, etc. and be terribly irritating to the airways of a person with COPD.


    In addition, you can help them make healthier eating choices, including healthy snacks to serve as an alternative to smoking. Eating healthy will also help them achieve or maintain a healthy weight, making breathing easier. And, it will help give them the energy they need to get through the day.


    Components of a healthy eating plan include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, limited protein (either animal or vegetable-based), plenty of water to drink and limited fat, salt and fried foods. Foods that are cooked and seasoned well will be more attractive to eat and help even with someone who has a small appetite.


    2. Learn all you can about COPD, its symptoms and the treatment plan.


    The more you know about COPD, the better you can support your loved one. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with it are important tools in learning how to live with it. You can act as a resource person too and intercede with the doctor, advocating for your loved one, if needed.


    It's also important to recognize a respiratory emergency and know what steps to take, should one arise. Keep emergency numbers handy and don't hesitate to call them, any time you are concerned about your loved one. Better safe than sorry!


    3. Help your loved one stay active.


    Another post I published recently reported the outcomes of a study that showed that aerobic-type exercise and strength training both had significant impact on the quality of life in people with COPD.


    The hard part of staying active with COPD is that frustrating lack of energy and endurance. It's so important to balance any activity with an equal or greater amount of rest! So, while you might enjoy working out for an hour or more at a time, it will actually be more beneficial for your loved one to work out maybe 5 or 10 minutes at a time, but many more times during the day.


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    You can help by taking a short walk with them every hour or two, either inside or outside. Or maybe you'll get up and dance a little to a favorite song on the radio. Or lift some soup cans during each commercial break during their favorite TV show? There are so many small ways a person can keep their body moving if they try!


    Over time, if they are active consistently, endurance can improve. But if not, there will still be benefits just from being more active. Airways will be more open, muscles will be stronger, joints will be more limber and the heart will also be strengthened.


    4. Help them conserve energy.


    As mentioned, living with COPD is all about balancing activity and rest. When even simple activities of daily living like eating, getting dressed, toileting and so on get hard to complete because they take too much energy, there are things you can do to help.


    Help your loved one organize supplies needed for each activity. For instance, for grooming in the morning, put hairbrush, toothbrush/toothpaste, shaving items and so on all within easy reach on the sink or vanity. Get a shower chair for the tub or shower, a detachable shower head and grab bars to make showering or bathing easier.


    If they still cook or do meal preparation in the kitchen (or want to help with it), bring a stool in so they can sit at the counter. Again, put the supplies they need within easy reach, so they don't have to reach up into a cabinet, climb on stools or squat down to get into a low cabinet or shelf. Get them to use a dishwasher if possible, or at least let dishes air dry.


    A rolling cart or even a rolling walker with a seat and/or a pouch can be really useful in carrying things from room to room. My mother often used her walker to carry laundry, magazines and many other things around our house.


    It's important to recognize that staying as independent as possible will help the COPD person's quality of life. So anything you can do to make their life easier, while maintaining at least some independence will probably be much appreciated.


    One last note... energy does tend to wane as the day moves on, so schedule outings and appointments as early in the day as possible, so that your loved one will be more likely to have enough energy to get through them.


    Living with COPD, whether you are the sufferer or the caregiver, can be challenging. But with careful effort, there are many ways to still live a happy, stable life!

Published On: February 17, 2013