Top 10 Steps for Coping With COPD
When you have a chronic illness such as COPD, life can be hard. It sometimes feels as though the disease has taken over your life. Unlike a broken bone or the common cold, COPD does not get better or go away after a few days, weeks, or months. In fact, it is only going to get progressively worse, although that process may be very slow and can hopefully take years.
Still, it’s important to take charge of your COPD the best you can and limit its impact on your quality of life as much as possible. But, how to do that?
Well, let’s take a page from an article published by the Harvard Medical School on coping with chronic illness in general. I’ve adapted their advice for people who have COPD.
1. Become a COPD “Expert.”
You’ve seen those TV commercials talking about “the more you know,” right? That’s good advice. Learn everything you can about your disease, how it’s treated and what to expect as time goes on. Talk with your healthcare team; don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s your body and you have the right to all the information you want and need.
Health care professionals can often be busy, though, so don’t be afraid to supplement your learning by reading books and doing internet research. Make sure you’re getting your information from reputable sources like COPD.net or the American Lung Association.
2. Be an Active Participant in Your Health Care Plan.
Think of your healthcare team as consultants or equal partners, not as the ones in charge. Take responsibility for your own health. Learn how to monitor your status and when to take action, in order to avoid serious complications.
Don’t be afraid to ask about treatment alternatives or to request additional therapies such as pulmonary rehabilitation. Above all, keep those lines of communication open with your doctor and other members of the healthcare team!
3. Build a COPD Care Team.
Think about adding more members to your team than just you and your primary care physician. You might need to consult a respiratory care specialty doctor. Or a respiratory therapist. Nurses and nutritionists might provide education about aspects of your care that doctors generally don’t have the time to cover.
Your family/caregivers are also important members of your team. Include them in planning and don’t be afraid to ask for help when necessary.
4. Coordinate Your Health Care.
Older adults who have COPD often have other chronic health conditions they are dealing with as well. Since you are the common link among the various health care professionals who may be involved with your care, be sure you keep everyone informed on your overall health and treatment.
5. Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits.
Everyone can benefit from making health choices each and every day. Just because you have a progressive, chronic illness for which there is no cure is no reason to give up. Your quality of life today and in the future will benefit from making efforts to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.
If you do, the chances that you’ll have more energy and feel better both physically and mentally are much greater. Here are some things to focus on:
- Stay active! Get up and walk, if you can. Move around and work your body, even if it’s just inside your house.
- Eat healthy. Choose fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. Avoid sugar and prepared foods. Drink plenty of water.
- Get the sleep and rest you need. COPD drains your energy and zaps your endurance. Frequent rest periods are important. So is getting a solid 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night if you can.
- Manage your stress. Meditate, perform relaxation exercises, listen to music, socialize with family and friends when you can. All of these are natural stress-relievers.
6. Don’t Go It Alone!
We all benefit when we have people in our lives that we can rely upon for support, assistance and distraction from the stress of dealing with a chronic illness. Get your family and friends involved. Join a support group. You do not have to deal with COPD all on your own.
7. Follow Your COPD Treatment Plan.
You’ve worked hard with your healthcare team to develop a treatment plan that works for you. Now, it’s up to you to follow it. You might be on many different types of medications each day, and perhaps oxygen as well.
Learn everything you can about each medication you take:
- What it’s for
- How to use it
- How it works
- What beneficial effects to expect
- What side effects to watch out for
- When to contact your doctor about a problem with the medication
The same goes for supplemental oxygen. Understand why you need it and how to care for your equipment properly. Knowledge is power! When you understand your treatment plan and how it can benefit you, then you are more likely to stick with it, step by step.
8. Manage Your Moods.
Anxiety and depression are common in people suffering from a chronic illness. They are nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes, these moods are temporary and pass quickly. Other times, they may prevent you from caring for yourself the way you should.
Don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling. Learn about the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reach out to your doctor if you need something more than a supportive ear.
9. Connect With Other People Who Have COPD.
Remember, you are not alone! Sadly, COPD is a very common condition these days. Family, friends and your health care team may be empathetic with what you are going through. But, there is nothing like connecting with people who are actually experiencing the same things you are with COPD.
We have a great community here at COPD.net and on our Facebook page. Talk to us, connect with other COPD’ers and realize you truly are in this with all of us. You may also find support and connection in local support groups. Check with your local lung association office or hospital to see what may be available in your area.
10. Take Charge of Your Health and Your Life.
In short, it’s your body and your life. You get to decide how you want to respond to this chronic illness called COPD. Do you give in to it and lose hope? Or do you take every action you can to live as healthy and as high a quality of life as possible for as long as you can? The choice is yours.
Know, though, that eventually hard decisions will need to be made, end of life type decisions. Think about your options and whether you want extraordinary measures till the very end or if you want to consider hospice or a “do not resuscitate” order. Talk about your wishes with your loved ones and your health care team — and put your wishes into writing.