My husband was recently diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As he has never been a smoker, we were very surprised by this diagnosis. Unfortunately, his physician didn’t provide us with much information on what the disease is and if there is any way we can slow the progression of it. I’m also interested in learning what I can do to support him.
Do you have any information on the disease or suggestions on how to care for a COPD patient at home? Any guidance would be very much appreciated.
COPD Care Plan and Caregiver Guide
I’m so sorry to hear of your husband’s diagnosis. While COPD is definitely more common among smokers, nonsmokers account for about 20% of diagnoses in the US. Experts attribute this to a variety of factors ranging from a childhood infection to environmental hazards.
In general, there are four distinct stages of COPD:
- Stage 1
- This is a mild stage of the disease. Many people aren’t yet aware that something is wrong. They may experience a cough or phlegm and slight problems with breathing upon exertion.
- Stage 2
- This is considered to be the moderate stage of COPD. Coughing and mucus production increase and breathing is more difficult.
- Stage 3
- Severe stage COPD is when the disease seriously impacts a patient’s quality of life. People have difficulty completing everyday tasks and often experience fatigue.
- Stage 4
- This is end-stage COPD. Breathing issues can be life-threatening. Low blood oxygen levels can lead to additional complications.
Fortunately for your husband, research seems to indicate that nonsmokers have milder symptoms of COPD and a slower progression of the disease. There are steps you can take that may delay the advancement of his condition.
Slowing the Progression of COPD
Typically the first recommendation pulmonologists make is for the patient to stop smoking. Since your husband isn’t a smoker, here are a few more tips experts say may slow the progression of COPD:
- While it may be counterintuitive when breathing feels difficult, staying active is one of the best ways to protect lung function. Doctors suggest 20–40 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. Some physicians recommend a patient participate in pulmonary rehabilitation several days a week.
- Lose weight
- Maintaining a healthy weight also helps slow the progression of COPD. Losing even a few pounds can take some of the pressure off the heart and lungs.
- Eat healthy
- A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean protein gives your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs. That helps with everything from weight management to energy.
- Avoid environmental exposures
- Strong fumes and odors make breathing more difficult for even the healthiest of lungs. For adults with decreased lung capacity, it can be more extreme. Some patients find it beneficial to invest in a clean-air system for their home.
- Get vaccinated
- Work with your husband’s primary care physician to make sure he is up-to-date on important vaccines, such as influenza and pneumonia. In most cases, the recommended guideline is a yearly flu shot. For pneumonia prevention, there are two different vaccines and experts often recommend getting both.
My final suggestion is to find a care team you and your husband feel comfortable with and confident in. A quality primary care doctor and pulmonologist can make a big difference. In the future, you might benefit from enlisting the services of an in-home caregiver to aid in managing your husband’s illness.