Does your senior loved one find it difficult to take a deep breath, an action most of us take for granted?
An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from COPD, while as many as 12 million more remain undiagnosed.
That is why it is so important to spread the word about breathing better.
Currently COPD primarily affects people over the age of 40.
47% of those afflicted are men and 53% women.
COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is sometimes thought to be just another sign of aging but it is not.
Even if your senior loved one (or you) feel that you have mild symptoms, it is important to tell your doctor so testing can be done and, if appropriate, treatment initiated to improve their quality of life.
We may have heard the initials, which are in the media a lot, but may not really understand what it is.
In fact, COPD is a serious lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. The airways that carry air in and out of your lungs become partially blocked.
More facts about COPD:
- 3rd leading cause of death in the US
- Causes long term disability
- Kills more than 120,000 people each year or one every 4 minutes
- People with COPD: 34% are current smokers, 42% are former smokers and 24% never smoked
- 9 out of 10 deaths related to smoking
- Also called emphysema and chronic bronchitis
- Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, feel like you can’t breathe, and inability to breathe deeply that can interfere with daily activities
- Symptoms worsen over time
- Risk factors: smoking, environmental pollutant exposure such as fumes, second hand smoke, chemicals and dust, and genetics
Actions to Take if You Are at Risk
Since so many of our senior loved ones may be at risk, especially after long term environmental exposure from years of working around chemicals and fumes, it is important for family caregivers to encourage their seniors to take health action that could help their breathing.
Here are some suggested actions to start to reduce their risk of developing COPD and hopefully prevent it!
- Stop smoking! When a cigarette burns, it releases about 7,000 chemicals that weaken your lungs!
- Have a regular health checkup so a physician can evaluate lung condition; ask about a spirometry test
- Be physically active to build strength and stamina
- Avoid pollutants like dust and fumes
- Avoid outside activities when the air quality is poor due to smog, mold or allergens
- Get a flu shot and avoid contact with people with the flu to prevent contracting illnesses that can diminish lung function
- Wash your hands often
- Eat a wide variety of healthy foods to strengthen immune system and stay well
Living With COPD
Once your senior loved one has developed COPD, there are things that they can do with your help to manage their disease and live a more active life.
When they begin to take control of their lung disease, it will make their activities of life a bit easier and allow them to continue to do the things they enjoy.
Many of the action steps that are suggested for preventing COPD will also help you control it once diagnosed.
COPD Management Tips:
- Stay active! Keep your lungs working for you!
- Reduce exposure to those things that could trigger breathing, including perfumes and cleaning products.
- Stop smoking!
- Avoid second hand smoke.
- Pay attention to air quality in your local area so your senior can perform errands or enjoy the outdoors on days when their breathing won’t be impaired; the EPA lets us do this online.
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer to reduce risk of contracting respiratory illness.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Practice good oral hygiene with twice daily tooth brushing and regular dental visits.
- Get scheduled and recommended vaccinations.
- Reduce your stress and get support if you feel sad, depressed or overwhelmed with the diagnosis.
- Diet changes can affect your breathing. A mix of different types of foods will give your senior all the essential nutrients they need to help their overall health as well as fight infection. Sometimes controlling the amount of carbohydrate eaten will improve your senior’s breathing as carbohydrate metabolism can lead to carbon dioxide production which could affect lungs. Increase the unsaturated fat in the diet and include complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fresh fruits) while limiting simple carbohydrates (sugar containing items, sweets).
- If taking steroids, it is important to be sure you are getting enough calcium; talk to your doctor to discuss the need for supplementation.
- Limit salt (sodium) in your diet to prevent edema or fluid retention that can impair breathing.
- Drink adequate fluids, 6-8 glasses, a day to help keep your secretions thin.
- If you tire easily, plan your day to accomplish what is needed before you tire out.
- You may feel better eating 6 small meals instead of trying to fill up three times a day since smaller meals will put less pressure on your abdomen and lungs.
- Modify your environment so that getting activities accomplished requires less effort — put things in easy reach to reduce bending, walking and stooping.
- Understand the medications prescribed and take them as directed.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Used pursed breathing when you feel short of breath. Don’t know how to do that? This video from the American Lung Association will show you.
Having trouble breathing even one time can be very scary for senior loved ones and family caregivers.
Understanding how to prevent lung disease or how to effectively manage it is vital to maintaining a good quality of life as we age.
Breathing problems don’t come with the territory of aging, so have your senior loved one seek medical help if a problem is suspected so an action plan for health can begin!