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Caring for Individuals with COPD

By John W. Walsh

(Page 1 of 5)  

A diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a life-altering event for both the individual and the family members or friends who ultimately sacrifice everything to help during a difficult life passage. Taking on the role as caregiver has its challenges, but it can also be the opportunity of a lifetime.

COPD encompasses emphysema, chronic bronchitis, irreversible asthma and severe bronchiectasis. The two main causes of COPD are cigarette smoking and Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. Air pollution and occupational dusts can also contribute to COPD, especially when the person exposed to these substances is a cigarette smoker.

In the beginning stages of COPD, individuals with COPD (COPDers) experience minimal shortness of breath that might be noticed only during exercise. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath becomes worse, and may require an oxygen device. While COPD is incurable, its symptoms can be treated, and the individual’s quality of life maintained. As the disease progresses, caregivers play a critical role in helping to prepare meals, perform chores, run errands, manage medications and coordinate doctor visits.

Karen Anzalone, team leader for the C.O.P.D. Information Line, 866-316-COPD (2673), served as her father’s primary caregiver for several years and now provides assistance, education and support to other caregivers.

“Caregivers assist on a number of levels, from making sure the COPDer has a pulmonologist that they trust to ensuring that the right treatment plan is in place, and monitoring changes in symptoms,” Anzalone says. “In many cases, the caregiver is responsible for managing the household. First and foremost, it’s important to learn everything you can about COPD and to record events, flare-ups, diet, exercise and compliance in a notebook. Keep in mind that, as the caregiver, you have limitations and it’s normal to feel anxiety. Just do the best that you can for them, without sacrificing your own health and well-being.”


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