The support of family and friends can have a big impact on the quality of life of a loved one with COPD. But caring for someone with COPD can also affect the carer’s own life on many levels. Dr. Daniela Figueiredo gives advice on how to support your loved one with COPD and yourself.
A diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, can seem overwhelming, and not just for the person receiving it. However, keeping a positive attitude and focusing on supporting a healthy lifestyle for your loved one has been shown to help both caregivers and those with a chronic condition live life to the full.
Dr. Daniela Figueiredo, a lecturer at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, researches the impact of illness on individual sufferers and their families. According to her findings, supportive and informed care from family makes a notable difference to a patient’s wellbeing, even in the face of complex chronic conditions.
Why your support matters
A huge part of coming to terms with having COPD is acknowledging the need to make lifestyle changes, explains Dr. Figueiredo. Family members offering both practical and emotional support can have a tangible impact on restoring or recovering the health of a loved one.
“Taking medication, quitting smoking, changing exercise and nutrition habits and managing stress can achieve concrete health gains,” she says, emphasising that family and friends can help with making all of these adjustments.
Furthermore, Dr. Figueiredo states that people with chronic conditions who have good support networks are hospitalised less frequently and live longer.
Caring for carers
One of the most challenging aspects of COPD is that it’s progressive, which means the condition worsens over time. As of yet, there’s no cure; however, symptoms can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. It’s normal to feel stress and anxiety if COPD affects someone you care about, and care for.
“When dealing with chronic conditions, a caregiver is often the hidden patient,” says Dr. Figueiredo. “From missing sleep to financial strain and emotional stress, in some cases they can experience symptoms similar to their loved one.”
Essentially, caregivers should also be seen as patients, since they have an equally important need for knowledge and support. As a caregiver, make sure you maintain an ongoing dialogue with your own health care provider. You need to be physically and emotionally supported yourself in order to support others.
Also, knowing that you have options in difficult situations can make a real difference, so seek out information about the condition and the array of medications – such as bronchodilators and inhaled steroids – that can help people with COPD.
“Carers are often afraid of exacerbating the condition. Knowing how to help a loved one cope with breathlessness combats feelings of helplessness and lack of control,” says Dr. Figueiredo.
The bright side
Dr. Figueiredo’s studies also reveal an unexpected silver lining when it comes to caring for a loved one. The positive aspects of caregiving are often neglected, she notes.
“For many, caregiving is seen as a real experience of personal growth,” says the expert. “They find meaning in fulfilling the duty of caring for a loved one, and that’s important.”
Throughout the challenges, remember that you do have the power to make a difference as the carer or friend of a loved one with COPD. While you can’t change the diagnosis, you can control how you tackle it – and being proactive may have a bigger impact than you realise.
By Sarah Hudson
Photo by iStock
Figueiredo D., Cruz J., Jácome C., Marques A., (2016) Exploring the Benefits to Caregivers of a Family-Oriented Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, Respir Care. 2016 Aug;61(8):1081-9. doi: 10.4187/respcare.04624. Epub 2016 Jul 5.
Figueiredo, D., Gabriel,R., Jácome, C., Cruz, J., & Marques, A., (2014) Caring for relatives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: how does the disease severity impact on family carers?, Aging & Mental Health, 18:3, 385-393, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2013.837146
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