Caring for an Elderly Loved One with COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD for short) is a chronic lung condition that is caused by bronchitis, emphysema or a combination of the two. COPD affects the airways and air sacs in the lungs and makes it hard for those that have the disease to breathe. Many people have not heard of COPD because the condition is often misdiagnosed as another condition but there are still millions of people with the disease so it is important for family caregivers to know how to care for someone with COPD. In this article we would like to offer some tips and advice for family caregivers that are caring for an elderly loved one with COPD.

Recognizing the Signs

The first thing that family caregivers should do is watch for signs of COPD in their loved ones. Many seniors are not diagnosed until after they have lost more than 50% of their lung function but treatment can slow the progression of the disease so it is very helpful to catch the disease early on. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough, sputum or phlegm production, wheezing and chest tightness, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue. Family caregivers who notice any of these symptoms in their loved one should encourage their loved one to visit their regular doctor. Doctors can often diagnose the disease with a simple breathing test and can begin treatment after a diagnosis is made. There is currently no cure for the disease but treatment can often improve lung function and slow the progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

After seniors are diagnosed with COPD it is very important for family caregivers to learn all that they can about the treatment of the disease. Seniors with COPD may have to take multiple medications and it is likely that their treatment plan will include more medications as the disease progresses. The most common treatment options for COPD are inhalers, corticosteroids and oxygen treatments. Inhalers that contain bronchodilators can be used to help relax the muscles around breathing tubes in the lungs which makes breathing easier and helps to reduce shortness of breath. Corticosteroids can be taken as pills or through an inhaler and are used to reduce swelling in the breathing tubes to make breathing easier. Corticosteroids are usually not a long term treatment option but family caregivers should make sure that their loved ones are taking their medication as prescribed if they are required to take corticosteroids. Oxygen treatment is usually used once COPD has progressed to the most severe stage. Once COPD becomes severe it reduces the ability of the lungs to pump oxygen into the blood to be carried to the rest of the body. If a senior’s oxygen level is too low their doctor might prescribe oxygen therapy to help boost their oxygen levels. Many family caregivers find it helpful to have a nurse come in to help them learn how to use the oxygen properly. Family caregivers should also make sure that they have everything they need on hand for their loved one’s oxygen such as spare batteries and tubes. It is also very helpful for family caregivers to keep antibiotics on hand because many seniors will experience a flare up of their COPD that is caused by a bacterial infection. Having the antibiotics on hand before a flare up occurs allows seniors to begin treatment as soon as possible.

Emotional Side Effects

After family caregivers become comfortable with their loved one’s treatment options they should make sure that they are prepared to handle the emotional side effects of COPD. Many seniors begin to experience depression because they are frustrated with the restrictions and isolation that they face because of their disease. Family caregivers can help their loved ones by talking with them so that they have someone to share their concerns with. It might also be helpful for seniors to see a therapist or take medication for depression. Many seniors fall victim to depression because they are self-conscious about using oxygen in public and become confined to their home. Family caregivers can help their loved ones become less nervous about using oxygen in public by reassuring them that most people will not even notice their oxygen use and it will make their activities much easier.

As always family caregivers should make sure that they are also taking care of themselves. As COPD progresses it can be hard for family caregivers to take care of their loved ones by themselves because their loved ones require more treatment and attention. Asking family members or friends for help or hiring a homecare service can be very helpful in the later stages of COPD. Family caregivers can also look for a support group or talk with other close family members and friends to help relieve stress so that they can provide their loved one with the best treatment possible.

Additional articles in our home care services blog:

COPD in Seniors

Pneumonia and the Elderly: Understand the Risks