If you are an adult child caring for an aging parent, you may have to manage your parent's chronic illness. One of the most debilitating illnesses is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. COPD is a disease of the lungs. In COPD, the lung tissue becomes damaged, making breathing more difficult. The airways to and from the lungs become obstructed. COPD is a major cause of the death in the United States, and most cases of COPD are related to smoking, being exposed to second-hand smoke, or being exposed to toxic chemicals that damage the lungs.
There is no cure for COPD, but in most cases, the symptoms of COPD can be managed well enough to allow your aging parent to live at home. The most important step your parent can take to be able to live at home with COPD is to stop smoking if he or she still smokes. Also, it is important to avoid places where there is exposure to second-hand smoke and not allow anyone to smoke in the home.
COPD coping strategies
There are several strategies to enable your aging parent to live at home with COPD. Obviously, ensuring that the air he or she breathes is as clean as possible is critical. This means smoke, fumes, and other strong smells should not be allowed in the home. Encourage your parent to stay inside when air quality is poor; windows and doors should be closed as well.
To ensure your parent is able to live at home with COPD for as long as possible, make sure he or she sees a doctor regularly. Careful management of this disease will help prevent exacerbations and hospitalizations. Make sure you know what medications your parent is taking and, if inhalers are prescribed, that your parent has them with him or her at all times. Encourage yearly flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Improving your aging parent's diet with additional fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins as well as encouraging exercise will also extend the ability to live at home with COPD.
Some people with COPD require supplemental oxgen to maintain appropriate levels in their bodies when they are physically active, and some require it continually. Supplemental oxygen is available through oxygen concentrators for use in the home and also through portable oxygen tanks and delivery devices. For these portable devices there are free-flow regulators and on-demand regulators, which deliver oxygen in a more efficient manner, reducing the frequency with which oxygen tanks have to be replaced.
Exercise and pulmonary rehab
Most people who suffer from COPD will benefit from participating in a pulmonary rehab program. According to the American Thoracic Society, these programs include education and exercise classes for the lungs, how to exercise and do activities with less shortness of breath, and how to live better with a lung condition. The exercise classes help the person feel better and become stronger by improving fitness. If there is no pulmonary rehab available in your area, have your parent's physican review the walking program recommended by the American Thoracic Society. One of the most important exercises for someone with lung problems is walking regularly.
In case of emergency
If the following symptoms occur, your parent should seek emergency medical help immediately:
- Difficulty talking or walking
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Blue or gray lips or fingernails
- Hard and fast breathing, even after use of medications
COPD can be a difficult disease to deal with. Encourage your parent to be proactive in maintaining fitness and to continue to be active in the community, even if he or she must bring along supplemental oxygen. If necessary, investigate providing in-home health care to help your parent age in place. Your best gift to your parent is in being supportive of the desire to remain independent and assisting with strategies to do so.