Explaining COPD to Family & Friends

Expert Answers: Explaining COPD to Family & Friends

Last updated: September 2018

One thing that can be very challenging when it comes to life with COPD COPD is explaining the condition to our family and friends - especially if they don't know anything about it! So, we asked our experts for their thoughts on the following question:

How do I explain COPD to my friends and family? Are there any helpful ways to let them know what I'm going through?

Response from John
I find the best approach is to have them hang out on sites like ours. Our authors write pithy articles explaining what it is, and what it’s like to live with it. Your doctor should also have some pamphlets or booklets that should help too. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a family member or friend close to you come with you to your doctor’s visits. Either way, it’s always a good idea for friends and family to know what you are going through so they can provide you with the support you need to live well with it.

Response from Leon
There is a wealth of information available focused on this particular concern for patients living with the disease.
Friends and family will want to know how they can help support and take care of you. They will also want to know the facts about your COPD diagnosis and prognosis to better understand what you’re going through. To start, loved ones will need to understand that as a COPD patient, you may have difficulty breathing, which can make physical activities such as house chores and playing with children challenging.

Good COPD management begins with one crucial step for you (the patient), as well as family and friends. The biggest lifestyle change for anybody with COPD is to stop exposure to tobacco products. Even people who have had COPD for a while are able to slow down the rate of declining lung function by quitting smoking.

Any friends and family members who smoke need to quit, too. At a minimum, there shouldn't be any cigarettes within your reach to tempt you, and friends and family should not smoke near you so you can avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.

Make sure your loved ones know that exercise is an important part of your COPD management and they should encourage exercise and be supportive. Family and friends should feel free to invite you on a leisurely walk or bike ride, or to a family picnic. If an activity is too challenging for you, just let them know. Be active at your own pace, take a break when you need to, and watch from the sidelines if you feel fatigued.

COPD patients can benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, so encourage loved ones to become involved in your treatment. They can accompany you to rehabilitation sessions and help you practice what you've learned at home to improve your lung function. The American Lung Association (ALA) suggests that you ask your loved ones to attend doctor's visits with you as well, to help with conversations about how you're feeling and any issues you might have with your medications.

Another way to make living with COPD easier is to reach out for support from others with COPD. The ALA suggests that you ask your loved ones to help you find a local COPD support group and help you get to meetings. An online support group is also an option (as you have already found here on COPD.net and the corresponding Facebook page).

By taking a proactive approach and being open with others, you can effectively manage COPD. Help your loved ones understand that, with their help and encouragement, you can live a full and active life with COPD.

Response from Lyn
I usually recommend that patients point their family to a comprehensive source of information, such as this website, and allow them to research on their own. This allows them to digest the information in a way they’ll understand and at a pace right for them. It’s particularly important for your spouse or significant other to have a good understanding of what you’re experiencing and the progression of your COPD. If they’re willing to go with you to visit the doctor, I recommend you let them. This allows them to ask questions of the doctor that they may not want to ask you. It also enlightens them to what you’re experiencing and the treatment and options open to you. They need to understand that as with any disease process, you’ll have good days and bad days and you require their support and understanding to live a happy life.

Do you have any tips for sharing about COPD with family members or friends? Please let us know in the comments!

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