Seniors Managing COPD While Living at Home.

Seniors Managing COPD While Living at Home.

Living with COPD comes with physical, mental, and emotional challenges that impact every aspect of everyday life.

Being a senior with additional health challenges that come with aging can further complicate COPD symptoms. Let us talk about COPD, the basics, and tips on how seniors can cope with the symptoms while living fully.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious medical condition that primarily effects the lungs and the rest of the respiratory system.

The respiratory tissues grow inflamed over time, causing breathing difficulties, wheezing, and mucus-productive coughs.

The two most common conditions that lead to COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis, frequently brought on by lifelong cigarette use.

Symptoms of COPD include: wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, reduced energy, respiratory infections, and weight loss (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

COPD isn’t always caused by smoking. Persons who are at higher risk for developing COPD also may have history of asthma or genetic factors.

Chronic COPD can lead to additional health problems including heart disease, infection, lymphedema, and high blood pressure (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

How is COPD Treated?

Treatments vary and are provided throughout all stages of COPD. Commonly, physicians will prescribe the use of supplemental oxygen at home when an individual is unable to get enough air throughout the day.

In severe or advanced stages of COPD, surgical procedures and lung transplants may be necessary to prolong life.

Aside from pharmacological treatment solutions, clinicians will also suggest an array of lifestyle changes and modifications to activities of daily living (ADLs).

What Are Some of The Best Ways to Perform ADLs at Home If You Have COPD?

The best solutions to modify activity participation at home are the ones that reduce the chance of inflammation and keep the senior breathing as well as possible.

The obvious changes include avoiding any irritants such as cigarette smoke, areas with high pollution, or places that are not well ventilated. Other tips include:

  • Stay consistent with medication regimens prescribed by doctors such as any inhalants or other breathing-based treatments.
  • Maintain daily supplemental oxygen schedules and update oxygen levels with the doctor regularly if breathing and energy patterns are changing.
  • Make energy conservation the focus of your day. You don’t have to everything on your to-do list for the day. Pick and choose the things that are top priority, and if you happen to have energy continue with your list.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help, especially for tasks that are most hard on breathing abilities: going up and down the stairs, running community errands, vacuuming/sweeping/mopping large rooms, tasks that require lengthy standing, etc.
  • If possible, do as many basic activities in sitting: showering, hygiene tasks, cooking, dressing, etc.).
  • Make improving your posture a priority. Sit up straighter to better open your chest and lungs for optimal breathing.

What Are Some Things to Avoid or Prevent If You Have COPD and Have to Perform ADLs at Home?  

With every “do”, there is usually a “don’t”. Here are a few “don’ts” seniors with COPD should acknowledge:

  • Don’t do it all, and never think you must do it all. Take each task on your list one step at a time. Monitor your oxygen and heart levels between each activity to keep yourself in check and to prepare yourself to move on to the next task.
  • Don’t overbook yourself. Keep a loose schedule. Seniors should be giving themselves plenty of time to complete tasks, because rushing through even the most basic of activities can increase lung inflammation and difficulty breathing.
  • Don’t get over-creative with your oxygen line. These days, seniors have multiple options for supplemental oxygen ranging from concentrators to portable supplements. If seniors with COPD are adjusting to constantly wearing a cannula, this means they are still getting used to navigating their home with a lengthy cannula cord. Be mindful of where the oxygen line trails through the home in order to prevent future falls.
  • Don’t spend prolonged periods in stuffy rooms or around other irritants that could impact breathing: cigarette smoke, pollution, strong cleaning products, allergens if this is a concern, etc.).

Which Breathing Exercises and Activities Are Good To Improve Endurance and Tolerance For Performing Home-Related Tasks?

Living with COPD requires increased focus on breathing patterns, more than life without COPD to prevent daily complications.

Here are a few ways to improve daily endurance for meaningful activities:

  • Coffee straw breathing techniques: If symptoms are exacerbated, a senior needs to sit down (while possibly hooking up their oxygen cannula) and start active breathing.

    This means getting as much oxygen in and retaining it in the lung tissues for as long as possible. Breathe in through the nose and obtain a full breath in 2-3 seconds.

    Exhale over 10-15 seconds through the mouth as if you are breathing through a thin coffee straw. Repeat several times until oxygen saturation levels are back to normal.

  • Breathing-promoting exercise activities: consider taking up activities (with recommendations from the doctor first) that heavily promote active breathing. Examples include yoga, tai-chi, swimming, dancing, etc.

    Exercise keeps much needed oxygen flowing throughout the body while knocking mucus out of the respiratory system to improve breathing patterns.

  • Back extensor exercises: Keep the back and neck muscles strong to promote better posture.

    This includes using exercises such as rowing, Theraband exercises, overhead pulleys, etc.

    Back exercises are still appropriate for seniors with COPD; however, each individual should consult with a physical or occupational therapist in order to tailor-make their exercise program for their needs and stages of COPD.

What Are Some Good Tips for Traveling Outside the Home if You Have COPD?

Seniors living with COPD are not necessarily restricted to their home. Community participation is still a possibility with the proper precautions.

If a senior wishes to run a community errand, make sure it is doable and safe. Go with a loved one who can supervise or assist if needed.

Keep your charged phone on you in the even of a medical emergency. Bring your oxygen supplement if possible and keep travel and walking distances short.

If COPD symptoms are worsening with time, look ahead at more advanced adaptations such as using a powered chair or wheelchair for community use.

Consult with your physician, medical equipment providers, insurance providers, and rehabilitation therapists for more information about obtaining a wheelchair for future use (one that accommodates oxygen supplements).

Summary

Living with COPD can be incredibly challenging.

However, with the right modifications and lifestyle changes, a senior with COPD can still thrive and participate in the daily tasks that are most important to them.

Stay updated with your medical professionals, follow your breathing medication and exercise regimens, and plan ahead for the future so that you can still enjoy life to the fullest.

 

References

COPD: Overview (2021). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679. Viewed on May 26, 2021.

 

 

Author: Samuel

Samuel is a physical therapist with over 20 years medical experience. He has extensive knowledge in functional rehabilitation in the acute care hospital and in-home care settings. He has spent most of his career helping seniors transition from hospital or rehab care to living independently at home. In his free time he likes to travel and read autobiographies.

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