The FAQs of COPD Caregiving: Part 2
In the first part of this series on caregiving, we talked about the impact of COPD caregiving on the caregiver. We also examined some common facts about caregiving. Finally, we answered some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about caregiving.
In today's post, we'll take a closer look at the COPD caregiver role and answer some common questions about how best to manage your responsibilities in this role.
1. What is my role as a caregiver for someone with COPD?
The role and responsibilities of a COPD caregiver can vary widely. So much depends on the current level of support needed by your loved one, your relationship with each other, and whether you share these responsibilities with anyone else. Here, though, are some of the most common things caregivers take on for someone with COPD.
- Assistance with personal care, including cooking, bathing, dressing and toileting
- Help with household tasks, such as cleaning, laundry and changing bed linens
- Taking your loved one to doctor visits, grocery shopping and other errands
- Emotional support, supervision and companionship
- Overseeing health care, including medications, oxygen and medical appointments
Advice: The first step to taking on the role of caregiver is to understand the needs of the person you are caring for. Frank, honest communication can go a long way to establishing a positive relationship with your loved one. You may also need to have a conversation with the doctor in charge of your loved one's care so that you understand the COPD plan of care and your role in it. Getting organized and putting together a schedule of tasks can be helpful. And don't forget to delegate some of those tasks to others if you can!
2. What support services are available to help us?
Recognizing that you, alone, do not have to do it all is important. There may be resources available to support you in your caregiver role.
Advice: According to the COPD Foundation, the following organizations may be useful, depending on the needs of you and your loved one:
ELDERCARE LOCATOR: (1-800-677-1116) can direct you to the Area Agency on Aging that serves the area your loved one lives in. The Area Agencies on Aging can provide information on resources that serve persons aged 60 years or older.
Some other organizations that offer various services for caregivers include:
- VISITING ANGELS, 1-866-739-4788
- CARING CONNECTIONS, 1-800-658-8898
- FAMILY CAREGIVER ALLIANCE, 1-800-445-8106
3. How do I know what is covered by insurance?
Insurance coverage can vary quite a bit. It's important that you, as a caregiver know what is and isn't covered by your loved one's insurance plan. This can help you obtain needed services and medical treatments without delay.
Advice: If your loved one is old enough to be covered by Medicare and possibly a Medicare supplement program, there may be phone numbers on the insurance card that you can call to learn more. You can also visit Medicare.gov to explore the Medicare insurance program in depth. Another possibility is to talk with the staff at your loved one's physician's office. They are often well-versed in coverage issues with insurance of various types.
4. What is my role with my loved one's health care team?
The key as a caregiver for the person with COPD is to provide support and assistance as needed. But, you do not want to infringe on your loved one's independence if it's not necessary. It is an important part of your role, though, to oversee health care and all that entails. So, you will need to become part of the health care team.
Advice: One thing you'll need to know is when to call the doctor if your loved one's health status changes. These are important signs of a COPD flare-up (also known as an exacerbation) that you should alert the doctor to:
- Increased difficulty breathing during everyday activities
- More coughing or increased chest pain when coughing
- Increased mucus production
- Changes in the appearance of mucus, such as extra thick, blood-tinged, yellow or green color
- Swelling in the hands or feet
- Muscle cramps
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath that wakes the patient in the night
It's better to call the doctor and be told no action is necessary than to ignore these danger signs. The doctor may simply advise changes in medication or other treatment, or s/he may request an office visit.
When your loved one does need to see the doctor, it's a great idea for you to go along. You can provide support and also help to report health issues and to record any instructions from the health care team. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a doctor's visit:
- Make a list of all the medications and over-the-counter medicines/supplements your loved one is currently taking.
- Keep a daily diary of symptoms and how your loved one responds to medication and other treatments and bring that along.
- Make a list of any questions you or your loved one have, and be sure to get answers to those questions before you leave the doctor's office.
- Be sure to bring any insurance cards with you.
5. How do I keep track of everything in the plan of care?
Depending on your loved one's COPD treatment plan, there may be a lot to keep track of. Sometimes, the patient can take on this responsibility, but often it falls to the caregiver to at least oversee. Medications, oxygen, doctor's appointments, etc., can easily get lost in the shuffle without some sort of tracking system.
Advice: For medications, making a chart with the following information can be very helpful in staying on top of things:
- Name of the medication
- Purpose of the medication
- When the medication should be taken & how often
- A place to check off that it's been taken each time
You may also want to keep a diary where you can record symptoms, the oxygen prescription (if applicable), nutrition and other aspects of your loved one's health care regime. This can help you note significant changes and will also be useful when reporting it to the doctor.
Taking on the role of COPD caregiver can seem overwhelming at first, and sometimes later on as things change too. But, with a little preparation and planning, you can stay on top of things and even thrive in this role!
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