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COPD in the Elderly Care Plan

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

COPD is a chronic lung condition that affects patients for the rest of their lives. This article is written to help you, as a caregiver, learn more about this illness.

We go over what causes COPD, its main symptoms, and other crucial recommendations that will enable you to take efficient care of your loved one.

What is COPD?

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a sickness that obstructs the airflow out of the lungs and, as a result, makes it difficult to breathe.

COPD is a progressive and long-term disorder. That is to say that the illness's symptoms typically worsen as time goes by.

However, if you're caring for a loved one that was diagnosed with COPD, you should keep in mind that there are many treatment options for controlling its symptoms, minimizing flare-ups, and maintaining a desirable quality of life.

In fact, this is the case regardless of the type of COPD that your family member or friend has.

The Most Common Types of COPD

In short, there are two diseases that fall under the category of COPD. They are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A lot of COPD patients have both of them.

Emphysema

Emphysema damages and, at times, destroys the lung's alveoli-air sacs, which confine the air that's in the lungs. Consequently, the condition may create difficulties for your sick or elderly loved one when they want to breathe out.

One of the very common symptoms of emphysema is shortness of breath.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, allows extra mucus to build up in the airways, making them narrower. In turn, this blocks the air-flow in and out of the lungs.

If you suspect that a family member or friend has chronic bronchitis, you should keep an eye out for a cough that emits mucus and persists for 3 months or more.

It is a good idea to see a doctor when your loved one is worried about certain environmental, medical, or lifestyle factors that increase their risk of developing emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

What causes COPD?

The following health issues and environmental elements can cause COPD:

  • Air pollution, chemicals, and/or industrial dust (particularly when a person is consistently exposed to them)
  • Asthma
  • Genetics. COPD is tied to some rare genetic conditions. There are also hereditary aspects that increase the likelihood of a COPD diagnosis, even more so when the patient smokes
  • Smoking and getting exposed to second-hand smoke. This includes cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
  • Using inappropriately-ventilated cooking gas and/or fire

You may want to take the friend or family member that you're caring for to the doctor if any of the above risk factors apply to them and they start showing COPD symptoms.

Symptoms of COPD

Here are the symptoms that COPD patients often experience:

  • A general feeling of fatigue, tiredness, and a lack of energy.
  • Getting respiratory infections on a frequent basis.
  • Long-lasting and mucus-producing coughs.
  • Shortness of breath after engaging in mild activities.
  • Tightness in the chest area.
  • Wheezing.

Above all, you should be on the alert for any signs that these symptoms are getting worse because that could lead to further COPD complications for your elderly or sick loved one.

Complications of COPD

If the friend or family member that you're providing care for doesn't treat their COPD symptoms, the following complications could arise:

  • Depression
  • Deteriorating symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease, including a heart attack
  • Lung cancer
  • Pulmonary hypertension (a condition that is characterized by high blood pressure in the lung's veins)
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Weight loss

The best way to avoid these complications from developing is to take your loved one to the doctor for a diagnosis as soon as you identify one or more COPD symptoms.

Diagnosing COPD

A COPD diagnosis initially begins with a physical exam. After that, your friend or family member's doctor might conduct Pulmonary Function Tests to evaluate how well their lungs are performing.

On occasion, the doctor may have the patient undergo additional tests.

Other Less Common Tests

Although they aren't frequently used, here are a few tests that doctors sometimes rely on when diagnosing COPD:

  • Arterial Blood Gas Test: Simply put, the physician gets a blood sample from your sick and/or elderly loved one to evaluate the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in their blood.
  • Blood Tests: While these blood tests are rare, they can detect genetic causes for COPD.
  • Chest X-rays: Chest x-rays allow doctors to identify emphysema, heart issues, and lung problems.
  • CT Scans: Similarly, CT scans provide your care receiver's physician with a clear and detailed lung scan that shows whether they have emphysema or any other lung condition.  
  • Exercise Test: These tests highlight how well the patient's lungs and heart function when they engage in physical activities.

Once (and if) the doctor determines that your family member or friend has COPD, they will put them on a treatment plan.

Treatment for COPD

Here are the main COPD treatments and how they help:

  • Medications: Medicines like bronchodilators and steroids tend to relieve lung inflammation and make it easier to breathe.
  • Oxygen Therapy: In a few words, this treatment entails giving a person with COPD additional oxygen when their lung's airways get blocked or it becomes hard for them to get the amount of oxygen that their body requires.
  • Respiratory (Pulmonary) Rehabilitation: A pulmonary rehabilitation program would educate your loved one about COPD. This is particularly done in the form of breathing exercises that make it easier for your loved one to breathe while they engage in physical activities. Just as importantly, respiratory/pulmonary rehabilitation enables them to manage their lung-related symptoms in general.
  • Surgery: Surgical treatment for COPD could be done in the form of bullae removal (bullectomy), placing valves in the bronchi (endobronchial valve volume reduction) diseased lung tissue disposal (lung volume reduction surgery/LVRS), and/or lung transplants (for severe conditions).
  • Quitting Smoking: Since smoking damages the lungs and causes COPD, quitting the habit will assist your friend or family member with minimizing their symptoms and/or preventing them from getting worse.

Managing/Preventing COPD

You may want your sick or elderly loved one to follow the recommendations below so that their breathing improves and COPD symptoms don't deteriorate:

  • Avoid Air Pollution: For example, the care recipient should limit the time that they spend outdoors when the air quality is low or polluted.
  • Avoid Smoke: This includes directly smoking and getting exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • Clear Up the Airways: Buying a humidifier for your friend or family member's home is a great way to help them clear up their lung's airways.
  • Drink Lots of Water: Doing so makes the mucus in the airways thinner, which means that the patient can quickly and effortlessly cough it out.
  • Exercise Regularly: Firstly, encourage your loved one to attend pulmonary rehabilitation sessions. Secondly, after the program is over, the person that you're caring for must continue exercising so that they enhance the strength of their breathing muscles and endurance.
  • Have a Healthy Diet: Your COPD-diagnosed friend or family member is better off eating food and meals that consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Steering clear of (or at least minimizing) meals with extra salts and/or highly-processed ingredients is also beneficial for them.
  • Mental Health Care: It is not uncommon for those with COPD to struggle with depression and anxiety. If this applies to your loved one, have them visit their primary health provider.
  • Prevent Infections: Regular hand washing and avoiding people who are sick are two effective ways for preventing infections.
  • Vaccinations: Make sure that your family member or friend gets their annual flu shot. Additionally, they should confirm with their doctor that their pneumococcal vaccinations are up to date and ask about when they need them next.
  • Visiting the Patient's Health Care Provider: It is recommended that the care receiver visits their doctor on an ongoing basis and notifies them of any potential problems, such as worsening symptoms, mental health issues, and others.

While COPD is a chronic and long-term illness, people that were diagnosed with it can attain healthy and fulfilling lives by following the above recommendations.

Whenever you suspect that a person who you provide care for has COPD, you must pay close attention to their symptoms and help them get the treatments that they require. This enables your loved one to control their symptoms at an early point and prevent them from turning into bigger problems, regardless of whether they have emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or both.

Needless to say, avoiding the main causes of COPD (for instance, smoking and/or exposure to air pollution) is among the best ways for managing the condition, reducing flare-ups, and attaining a desirable quality of life.