Those who take care of COPD patients must remember to care for their own health, too.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be a difficult condition to live with, as symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and a smoker’s cough. That’s why a number of people with COPD rely on caregivers to help them with everyday tasks.
Being a caregiver for a loved one who has COPD can affect both your emotional and physical health. Because of this, people who care for someone with a serious illness like COPD are at increased risk of having health problems of their own and dying prematurely, compared with someone of the same age who is not a caregiver. It is important to take care of your own health so you can be strong and healthy when your loved one needs you.
COPD Caregivers: How to Take Care of Yourself
Some tips for caring for yourself while providing COPD care:
- Find a balance. It’s important that “you do not lose yourself in your loved one’s illness,” says Julie Walther Scheibel, MEd, a therapist in St. Louis, Mo. Stay active in your life outside of COPD caregiving, and continue doing things you enjoy such as participating in a book club, exercising, and spending time with friends and family. Stress–relieving activities such as gardening, meditation, and taking walks may be particularly beneficial.
- Practice good health habits. Maintain good health while providing COPD care by making sure you get enough sleep, exercise regularly,rest when you are ill, and attend your regular medical appointments.
- Watch out for depression. Caregivers are at increased risk of depression. Watch out for signs of depression and if you feel depressed, talk to your doctor immediately. Make sure your doctor knows that you are caring for a loved one who has COPD.
- Communicate. “Working on communication skills and keeping communication lines open is one of the most important things between a caregiver and patient,” says Kitty Weary of West Yellowstone, Mont., who provided COPD care for her father, husband, and mother. Communicating your feelings with your loved one can help preserve the relationship.
- Let yourself feel your emotions. ”It is easy to get angry about [a COPD diagnosis] as a caregiver,” says Weary. “Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and then move on.”
- Get help. “The healthy partner ends up taking a lot more of the physical duties of the relationship,” says Weary. “Whether it’s yard work or hauling the groceries or taking stuff up and down the stairs, it can be very hard [for COPD patients] if it is a bad breathing day,” she says. Weary suggests taking friends and family up on their offers to help, even though you may feel awkward asking for help. “It’s especially hard for caregivers to ask for help [since] they are the ones that give the help,” she says.
- Try “swapping” duties. ”I would suggest what I call ‘job swapping,’” says Weary. She says that when you do a task that your loved one used to do (e.g., yard work), you can ask him or her to do a job (e.g., cutting up vegetables for dinner) that will help you. “Swapping jobs like that helps you both,” Weary says. “That way the caregiver isn’t quite as overwhelmed, and it keeps the other person feeling more useful.”
- Join a support group. Weary says that support groups for COPD caregivers are a big help. When you participate in a support group, you can get advice and support from people who are in the same situation as you.
“A COPD diagnosis is a life–changing event for both the patient and the caregiver,” says Weary. As the caregiver of a loved one who has COPD, you need to focus on your own emotional and physical needs. Remember that caring for yourself will ultimately benefit your loved one, too.