What Is COPD?

March 14, 2018
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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In your role as a family caregiver, being aware of the risks your aging parent is facing is one of the most important ways you can help them to maintain their best health and live the lifestyle they desire and deserve as they age in place. One of the risks aging adults face is COPD.

If you have an elder care aide for your aging loved one with lung problems, you may already know much about COPD. If you don’t though, or if your elder loved one has just recently been diagnosed with the condition, you may be looking for more information and a better explanation of what it is.

Understanding COPD can help you to ensure you are giving your aging parent the care they need to either reduce their risk of developing COPD or handle it properly should they develop one of the diseases in this group.

Let’s take a look at COPD so you can get a better idea of what it is and what it means for your elder loved one.

What Is COPD?

COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and refers to a group of health problems and diseases that obstruct airflow due to progressive lung damage. While it is most commonly seen in those who do or have smoked, it can and does develop in others as well.

As mentioned above, it does not just refer to one specific illness but is instead sort of an “umbrella term” for several of them. Some of these illnesses include asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. They can occur in anyone at any age, but COPD is especially associated with the elderly.

A person may have one of these, or they may have several, but if they have a lung problem, they may still say they have COPD either way.

COPD Signs and Symptoms

Signs of COPD include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest Tightness

The number one most recognizable sign of COPD is breathlessness. This breathlessness, or inability to catch one’s breath, is often accompanied by coughing and wheezing, as well as tightness in the chest.

The symptoms of these diseases tend to develop quite slowly, making it more difficult for your aging parent to detect that they are suffering from them even as they start to notice their daily tasks are being compromised.

Any symptom that signifies it is difficult for your aging loved one to breathe is a sign you need to get them help as soon as possible.

What causes COPD?

In some cases, the cause of COPD is not known. But often, it is caused by breathing in harmful chemicals, such as those in polluted air or in cigarettes.

A lifetime of smoking is one of the most common ways to get COPD, so if your loved one has been smoking for years, you and your elder care aide should do your best to help them to stop.

Secondhand smoke can also contribute to COPD, even if the person themselves has never smoked a cigarette. Living with smokers who smoke inside the home or living in a polluted area for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on the lungs and can open one up to disorders like COPD.

COPD Risk Factors

  • Gender: Women are at twice the risk of developing chronic bronchitis as men.
  • Age: The risk of developing chronic bronchitis increases with age. 70 percent of those who are suffering from chronic bronchitis are over the age of 45 and more than 90 percent of cases of emphysema throughout the United States occur in people over the age of 45.
  • Location: In the US, the greatest prevalence of COPD is in the Southeast and the Midwest, likely due to lifestyle choices and careers.

Is COPD hereditary?

Yes, COPD can run in families, so if you have an elder relative with COPD, your risk of getting it yourself would be higher.

Is COPD contagious?

No, COPD is not contagious.

Is COPD progressive?

The symptoms of COPD are progressive, which means they will develop and change over time.

Some other things you should know about COPD include:

  • Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common types of COPD
  • Medical intervention can often slow the progression of symptoms and ease their intensity for improved quality of life
  • It is estimated that more than 64 million people throughout the world are suffering from some form of COPD
  • Approximately 24 million people suffer from COPD in the United States alone
  • More than 10 million people throughout the United States are currently suffering from chronic bronchitis
  • Approximately 4.7 million people throughout the United States are currently living with emphysema
  • Recently the number of cases of emphysema in women has increased while the number of cases in men has decreased

COPD Treatments Options

Whether your loved one has just been diagnosed with COPD or has had it for a while, it’s a scary disease. It can also become much worse very quickly, and you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to stop COPD in its tracks. Unfortunately, you can’t stop it or reverse it, but you can slow it down a good bit.

Luckily, there are many care treatment options for COPD, and talking to a doctor can tell you what you need to do. Sometimes, it could be as simple as getting an inhaler or doing special breathing exercises to calm the lungs.

Some additional treatment options include:

Quitting Smoking: This one seems a bit obvious, but it really isn’t for a lot of people who have lung diseases, including COPD. Continuing to smoke is extremely damaging for your loved one’s lungs, but stopping isn’t so easy. If your loved one has been smoking for a long time, several decades, then this will be a long process. Work with your loved one’s doctor to help your loved one quit safely.

Exercising More: Staying active is essential for anyone with COPD. Your loved one may not feel like getting up and moving, but exercising, particularly cardio exercises like walking, helps to strengthen their heart and lungs. Start out slowly and don’t try to get them to do too much too soon.

Improving Diet: People with COPD often lose a lot of weight or have difficulty keeping weight on. The big reason for this is that their bodies burn a ton of energy just trying to get the oxygen they need. Junk food and empty calories aren’t the way to go, though, since your loved one needs solid nutrition to keep their body fueled properly. Stick with nutritious foods and lots of vegetables and fruits.

Reducing Airborne Irritants: Secondhand smoke, fragrances, air pollution, and any other airborne irritants are dangerous for your loved one with COPD. Talk with your loved one’s doctor about whether or not air purifiers are a good idea, and see what other tips they can recommend. Keeping your loved one away from as many airborne irritants as possible can help their lungs to function better.

Following the Plan: Your loved one’s doctor will lay out a solid plan for managing their COPD, and it’s important to follow it. Contact your loved one’s doctor immediately if there are any changes to your loved one’s lung health so they can assess whether your loved one’s COPD is worsening. Make sure you write out the important parts of the treatment plan so elder care providers and any other family members have the information they need about your loved one’s COPD, just in case.

Contact Care Options for Kids

If your aging parent has been diagnosed with COPD or is at elevated risk for this condition, now may be the ideal time for you to consider starting elderly homecare for them.

The personalized services of an elderly home care services provider are tailored specifically toward helping your parent manage their care in a way that is right for them.

An elderly home care services provider can be with your aging parent on a customized schedule designed not just to address your loved one’s COPD symptoms or risk but their other individual challenges, needs, and limitations, as well as their desire for independence, activity, and engagement.

This means not only taking into consideration the physical issues they are facing and the symptoms they deal with on a regular basis, but also their personality, goals, thoughts, and opinions. Through this set of services your parent can live a fulfilling, active, and independent lifestyle while staying as healthy as possible moving forward.

A caregiver can provide reminders to help them remain compliant with their medications and treatments, and encouragement to make the lifestyle decisions that are right for their disease and their individual needs.

This can help your parent to live an enjoyable lifestyle even as they deal with the consequences of their health conditions.

As a family caregiver, this can give you the reassurance that your parent will be as safe, healthy, and comfortable as possible as they age in place both when you are able to be with them and when you are not.

If you or an aging loved one are considering home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.