Having a COPD diagnosis doesn’t just affect the patient. Whether you prefer the term caregiver, loved one, family member or friend, the support provided to the individual living with COPD is essential. And during the pandemic, when individuals living with COPD are at higher risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19, your role is even more vital to your loved one’s overall wellbeing.

This November, we recognize both Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Awareness Month. During these month-long observances, we raise awareness of COPD while also recognizing caregivers who work tirelessly to aid those living with COPD. Caregivers are unsung, everyday heroes that often find themselves in this role unexpectedly, without any formal training, education, or guidance. Whether you are new to caring for a loved one with COPD or you have been supporting them for years, we have resources that can help. 

Finding Support for Your Loved One

COPD is a chronic, progressive lung disease, meaning it gets worse over time. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and producing extra mucus. During a COPD exacerbation or flare-up, these symptoms worsen. Any changes you notice in the frequency or severity of symptoms can help signify when it’s time to call your doctor. While there is no cure for COPD, it can be treated and managed with medication, pulmonary rehabilitation, and other interventional treatments such as supplemental oxygen.  

It is common for individuals living with COPD to feel anxious when they experience shortness of breath. One way you can be supportive is to practice breathing techniques together during periods of usual breathing and then guide your loved one through these breathing exercises whenever they experience difficulty breathing. 

Physical activity is important, especially for individuals who live with chronic lung disease. That is why a healthcare provider- approved exercise regimen, whether it be daily walks, chair yoga or another activity, is essential. 

As an advocate for your loved one’s health, staying organized is vital. Tools such as the COPD Action Plan and Getting Ready for Your Next Office Visit guide can help keep communication lines open. When things become too overwhelming, you and your loved one can find support through palliative care. Different than hospice care, palliative care is a medical term used for an additional layer of comfort care given at the same time other treatment is being provided. 

Finally, talk to your doctor about recommended vaccinations, such as influenza and pneumonia. While it is important that your loved one be vaccinated, it is equally vital that your own vaccinations are up to date. This is an additional barrier from infection for your loved one but also helps protect against becoming ill yourself.  

Finding Support for Yourself

Though caregiving can be rewarding, it can also be stressful. At times, your own physical and emotional needs may be put on the back burner because you are more focused on those of your loved one. It may seem like just “another thing to add to the list,” but self-care is essential not only for you but for your loved one. It can be challenging to balance everyday responsibilities, multiple doctor appointments, coordinating medications, and impending thoughts of worry or fear about the future, but there are a number of resources at your disposal.

The American Lung Association hosts several free resources that provide support and education, such as:

  • The Better Breathers Network which connects local and nationwide support groups with learning opportunities designed to provide education, connection, and resources. 
  • The Inspire online support community allows you to “sign up” and talk to others about shared topics and find encouragement. 
  • The Lung HelpLine is a free, nationwide resource staffed with experts to answer your lung health and lung disease questions at any time. Have you ever left your partner’s doctors’ visit with questions about newly prescribed medications, supplemental oxygen, or why the doctor is recommending another diagnostic test? Our HelpLine  staff are ready to take your call.

You aren’t in this alone. It is okay to ask for help. Family and friends are a great resource who many times are just waiting in the wings to offer aid. Think about ways they can help you, such as making a weekday meal or running to the store. 

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