Pyramid of cutout figures holding each other up. One has a stethoscope and one has oxygen.

Impact of COPD On Family And Friends

Chronic diseases, like COPD, affect more than just the person diagnosed. They can also affect the friends and family of the person. Here are some ways this may happen and what can be done.

Some experts think the impact of chronic disease on family and friends may be different from the person diagnosed. However, other experts suggest that, in many ways, they may be the same as for the patient.

There’s The Five Stages Of Grief

Assuming they are the same as for the patient, they may entail the five stages of grief. These include.1-2

  • Denial. This can’t be happening. There’s no way someone I know can possibly be diagnosed with COPD. You may also feel a false sense of optimism that the disease will go away or get better. This may also be a natural mechanism for dealing with the change. A sort of distancing yourself from reality.1,3 On the other hand, the disease may be brushed off as trivial or due to aging. In the same way the person affected may deny changes need be made, you may deny changes need to be made.2
  • Anger/Frustration. Upset this is happening. You may feel upset about the diagnosis. You may feel upset at doctors for diagnosing it. You may feel upset at researchers for not knowing how to prevent it. You may feel anger at pharmaceuticals for not inventing better medicines. You may feel anger at the person diagnosed for smoking. Or, you may feel anger at the person’s place of employment for not having cleaner air.1
  • Bargaining. You may feel guilty that you didn’t do more to get the person to quit smoking sooner. You may feel guilty that you didn’t do something to stop it. To deal with guilt you bargain. You ask questions such as, “What if he never smoked?”  Or, “What if she quit her job sooner?” Or, “What if I had been more proactive?” Or, “What if I had spent more time with the person?1
  • Depression. You feel sad for the situation. You worry that your friend or loved one won’t be able to breathe. You worry that you won’t be able to help. You worry about how you’re going to pay for care or medicine. You worry how you’re going to maintain your own autonomy.1,4
  • Acceptance. Finally, you come to terms with the situation. It is what it is, and you learn to cope.1You and the person affected admit changes need to be made. You make the commitment to doing what is necessary to help the person live well and live long with COPD.2

A counselor told me that some people go through these steps in order. Sometimes it can go fast, sometimes slow. Some stages are skipped. People may also float into and out of each stage. For instance, you may feel depressed, then  acceptance, followed by depression again. It’s different for everyone.

There’s Also The Financial Impact

In COPD, these stages may vary over time. Adding to this is that COPDers can live a long time with their disease. As the disease progresses, a COPDer may lose the ability to do certain things. The need to rely on others increases. So, as studies show, this may have an impact on both the COPDer and family and friends.2

There’s also stress, such as due to the financial impact of the illness. Some caregivers have to quit their jobs in order to offer their support. There’s also worry about the cost of paying for medicine, equipment, doctors, and other caregivers. The burden here may be allayed by support from other family and friends.5-6

Still, the financial burden can impact the economic status of an entire family. And this may have an impact on the entire family of the person living with it. This may cause stress-related health issues to anyone living with the person, further draining financial sources. So, support for the family is also something that may need to be considered.6

What can be done?

Researchers continue to study the impact of diseases on family and friends. That family and friends may have similar feelings to those diagnosed indicate a need to recognize this, and potentially treat it. Possible treatment may entail support from friends, family, and healthcare professionals. It may entail something as simple as a sit down with the caregiver, patient, and physician to go over details of what this disease entails. Such a discussion may entail going over potential treatments and coping strategies. Treatment may entail support in the form of kind words, hugs, or prayers. It may also entail time spent with other people in similar situations, such as in communities like ours.4-5

What is the bottom line?

The bottom line is that chronic diseases affect family and friends, sometimes as much or more so than the person diagnosed.  So, it’s important for caregivers to recognize this, and treat it as appropriate. This is especially important, considering support from family and friends is “critical to successful patient care.”5

Future studies may reveal better strategies for diagnosing and treating the real impact of chronic diseases like COPD on friends and family. As we learn more, we will be sure to keep you posted.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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