How COPD Affects Aging And What Caregivers Can Do

how copd affects aging and what caregivers can do

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects roughly 11 million people in the United States and is now the third-leading cause of death by disease in this country. In a recent AJMC post (March, 2019), researchers stated, “It could be strongly argued that, due to the production of constant stresses that induce cell damage and eventual senescence, COPD might be directly responsible for accelerating aging, with all in untoward effects, rather than being a consequence of aging.”

This is important information for both patients with COPD and their caregivers to know, allowing care for those with COPD to follow a trajectory that is more closely in alignment with someone older than themselves, in order to provide the best quality of healthcare – and improved quality of life.

In addition to following medical recommendations for respiratory therapy, medication support, routine checkups, and various treatments, attention to diet, exercise, sleep habits, and social-emotional wellbeing can help combat the accelerated aging process associated with COPD.

A Shift From Hospital Care to Homecare Seems Inevitable for Those with COPD

In another study, targeting how to support home care for those with COPD, authors write:

Healthcare systems should support patients with COPD in achieving an optimal quality of life while limiting the costs of care. As a consequence, a shift from hospital care to home care seems inevitable. Therefore, patients will have to rely to a greater extent on informal caregivers. Patients with COPD as well as their informal caregivers are confronted with multiple limitations in activities of daily living. The presence of an informal caregiver is important to provide practical help and emotional support. However, caregivers can be overprotective, which can make patients more dependent. Informal caregiving may lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, social isolation and a changed relationship with the patient. The caregivers’ subjective burden is a major determinant of the impact of caregiving. Therefore, the caregiver’s perception of the patient’s health is an important factor.

In most cases, informal caregivers (spouse, partner, child, grandchild) are the primary supports for those with COPD, and this dynamic relationship requires a thoughtful and diligent long-term health plan to optimize health and quality of life for the patient, while simultaneously supporting and facilitating strong, healthy relationships between patient and caregiver(s).

Improving Quality of Life and Health

Of course, the primary tenet in caring for someone with COPD is to ensure s/he observes:

  • Routine doctors’ appointments
  • Occupational or physical therapy appointments (including respiratory clinics and exercise classes offered by your local healthcare agencies to support respiratory health)
  • Taking prescription medications as prescribed

However, there are plenty of things you can do at home to promote better physiologic wellbeing, which directly translates to better mental and emotional wellbeing

Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet

Systemic inflammation is a byproduct of COPD, the result of respiratory tract agitation as well as declined respiratory function. Susceptibility to respiratory illnesses takes its toll on the immune system, which can further activate chronic inflammation.

Multiple studies have shown a correlation between specific diets and improved lung function in those with COPD. Diets that seem to have the best impact on preventing COPD, or improving lung/respiratory after a COPD diagnosis are those that emphasize:

  • Lean proteins
  • Lots of fruit and vegetables
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Potassium-rich foods
  • Healthy fats
  • Minimal intake or elimination of processed foods and sugars

Researchers found anti-inflammatory diet models have multi-fold benefits for those with COPD and their caregivers.

Prevent dehydration (and focus on water)

Dehydration thickens mucus, which taxes the respiratory system. The Lung Institute states, “…drinking enough water can thin mucus and make mucus easier to clear out from the lungs.”By making water the hydration beverage of choice, those with COPD help to wash excess or thickened mucous through the system, rather than having to cough it up and get it out. And, it thins the mucus produced in the lungs and sinuses, making it easier to drain.

Read, Encourage Fluids to Keep Hydrated, for more information.

Keep moving – even if you’re house- or chair-bound

It’s hard to be motivated to exercise when shortness of breath or coughing are attached to physical exertion. Homebound patients with COPD can find ways to keep moving, even when more standard modes of exercise are no longer possible. Visit, Exercises For Homebound Seniors, for ideas on how less mobile seniors can safely exercise.

Provide independent access to activities, outings and social engagement

If COPD forces your spouse, parent or family member into early retirement, or requires a retirement from formerly-favorite activities, do all you can to support independence on your end. From creating more accessible living spaces that optimize safe mobility to setting up driving services or transportation options so your loved one can get around – the more engaged and active the person is in their own right, the better mental and emotional outlook they’ll have.

Respite Care is Key For Spouse and Family Caregivers

Finally, it’s essential that you create a respite care plan so your relationship as a caregiver doesn’t negatively impact your personal relationship. Get friends and family involved as much as possible. Don’t forget that respite care is also available from professional home care agencies, allowing you a day or two off per week – or a few hours off each day – so everyone gets the much-needed breaks they deserve.

HomeAide Home Care, Inc. is a licensed and experienced home care provider here in Alameda and the greater Bay Area. We have decades of experience supporting a positive and sustainable homecare plan for clients with COPD and their families. Contact Us to learn more.

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