COPD: Help for Caregivers
Helping or caring for a loved one with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can feel like a lot to take on. There's the challenge of caregiving, because what seems best for someone isn't always what the person wants to do. There's also the stress of learning how to manage COPD and often other health problems. And just as important is your need for good health and balance in your own life.
How can you learn to be a good caregiver?
Sometimes it can be hard for people to accept help. Or they may choose not to accept help. So you may have to adjust the way you think, ask, listen, and respond. For example, you can:
- Do your best to see things from your loved one's point of view.
- Ask questions like "What do you need help with?" and "How do you like to do this?"
- Offer new ideas gently, such as "Would you like me to do your breathing exercises with you?" instead of "You need to do your breathing exercises."
A main goal of caregiving is to help your loved one have the best quality of life possible. To learn what that means for your loved one, try asking questions like:
- "What do you consider a good day? What can we do to help you have more of them?"
- "What are you looking forward to doing in the next few months? How can we keep your health on track with those plans?"
- "What part of your COPD care is hardest for you right now? How can you and I make that easier on you? Is there something your doctor can help with?"
How can you help your loved one quit smoking?
If your loved one smokes, you can gently encourage him or her to quit. Think of your comments about smoking as only one event that moves your loved one toward quitting.
- Start any discussion of quitting in a gentle way. Make it short (less than 5 minutes).
- Let your loved one know why you want him or her to quit. Give your loved one reasons that are as important to him or her as they are to you.
- Ask whether there is a way that you can help your loved one quit.
If your loved one is trying to quit smoking, you can be a great source of support and motivation. If your loved one asks for your support while trying to quit, you can:
- Ask what he or she needs from you.
- Join in the activities your loved one does to decrease the craving to smoke, such as lunchtime walks or hobbies.
How can you help your loved one conserve energy?
Cooking dinner, putting away laundry, or even just walking across the living room can be exhausting for a person who has COPD.
When helping your loved one, be patient. And let your loved one do as much on his or her own as possible.
To help your loved one get tasks done more easily and with as little effort as possible, encourage him or her to:
- Make a list of what chores to get done every day. Group the tasks by location. This way your loved one does all the chores in one part of the house around the same time.
- Take rest breaks often and sit down whenever possible while he or she does household tasks.
- Sit on a shower chair while bathing. And encourage your loved one to sit down when he or she gets dressed, brushes his or her teeth, shaves, or puts on makeup.
How can you help your loved one eat well and not lose weight?
COPD can make it hard to eat well and stay at a healthy weight. Losing weight means losing muscle mass, including the muscles that help with breathing. It can make it harder for your loved one to breathe.
Boosting the appetite
Your loved one may have a low appetite or need some encouragement to eat regularly. To help encourage your loved one to eat:
- Offer food more often, including healthy morning and afternoon snacks.
- Prepare a variety of healthy foods that are easier to chew and don't cause gas. And use different flavors and colors to make food that looks and smells good.
- Try serving meals in courses, one food at a time.
Gaining weight (if your loved one needs to)
You can help your loved one add calories and protein to meals or snacks. Try these tips.
- Add cheese, olive oil, butter, or mayonnaise to sandwiches, crackers, casseroles, soups, vegetables, potatoes, or pasta.
- Serve high-calorie snacks, like bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese.
- Serve a nutrition shake or ice cream between meals.
If your loved one has other health problems that may restrict the foods he or she can eat, talk with your loved one's doctor or a registered dietitian before you make any changes in your loved one's diet.
Breathing easier while eating
Your loved one may have a hard time breathing while eating. But there are things he or she can do to make it easier. Encourage your loved one to:
- Clear his or her airways about an hour before eating, and use any medicines that make breathing easier.
- Use oxygen (if needed) while eating.
- Drink the beverage at the end of the meal. Drinking before or during the meal can make your loved one fill up too quickly.
- Eat six small meals each day instead of three large ones, so the stomach is never too full.
How can you care for yourself?
Caring for a loved one can be rewarding, but it also can be stressful. It's really important to make time for yourself so you don't get overwhelmed.
Here are a few ways you can be kind to yourself.
- Join a caregiver support group. It really helps to be with other people in the same situation. They may be able to give you some ideas about where to look for help in your community, like getting meals brought to your loved one's house. Or they can help you find someone to stay with your loved one so you can take a break.
- Ask other folks for help. Check with family members or friends. You don't have to do it all yourself. Make a list of everything that needs to get done, and ask them to help with a few things on your list.
- Make sure you take time to have some fun with friends. Or at least give them a call. It's important to make some time to do things you enjoy.
- Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy meals can help you handle stress better. Even just a quick walk can help put you in a better mood.