November is COPD Awareness Month. Now, is a great time to learn more about COPD and how to help New Jersey seniors living with this progressive disease.
COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a term used to describe several lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. According to the American Lung Association, 5% of Americans (2020 data) and 10% of people over 75 years of age are currently living with COPD, and these numbers are only expected to rise as Baby Boomers continue to age. If left untreated, COPD can be a debilitating disease.
COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide. In New Jersey alone, about 3,000 individuals died from this illness in 2018. However, there are steps one can take to help COPD patients manage their condition and live longer, happier, healthier lives.
Below, we’ll learn more about COPD and how senior citizens living with this disease can best manage their care and improve their quality of life.
What is COPD?
COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes breathing difficult. Air becomes trapped in the lungs due to excess mucus, scarring, narrowing of the air passages, and destruction of the air sacs in the lungs. As COPD advances, the lungs lose their ability to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream and remove wastes from the body. People with COPD are at increased risk of other lung and vascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary hypertension.
While 12.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, millions more are still unaware that they have it. Unfortunately, this deadly disease is becoming more widespread because of tobacco use and exposure to certain pollutants.
What are the early signs of COPD and how is it diagnosed?
Early signs of COPD may include:
- A persistent, ongoing cough
- A cough with mucus
- Shortness of breath, especially while active
- Wheezing sound while breathing
- Tightness in the chest
The above signs tend to get worse as COPD progresses. In the later stages of the disease, COPD can cause swelling of the ankles and legs, weight loss, and muscles that get tired easily.
Smokers or individuals who have had exposure to irritants, such as dust and chemicals, are at greater risk of COPD. In order to diagnose COPD, a provider will first evaluate the symptoms a patient is experiencing as well as the patient’s medical history. The provider will then have the patient undergo lung function tests, such as spirometry, where the patient will be instructed to breathe as hard as they can into a tube.
Based on the spirometry results, together with the patient’s symptoms and medical history, physicians can determine the severity of a patient’s COPD. Most providers use the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) table to ascertain whether a patient’s COPD is mild, moderate, severe, or very severe.
Are you interested in COPD testing for yourself or another individual in the state of New Jersey?
The Clare Medical team is available to administer in-home pulmonary function testing, including spirometry, in homes and senior living facilities all over New Jersey.
Call (609) 474-0120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your appointment today!
COPD Risk Factors
Cigarette smoking has been long known to be the leading preventable cause of COPD. But, while smoking greatly increases one’s risk of developing COPD and lung function loss, other factors, such as exposure to environmental pollutants are also substantial COPD risks.
What are the risk factors for seniors with COPD?
The following factors put individuals at greater risk for COPD:
- Secondhand smoke
- Air pollution
- Childhood respiratory infection
- Workplace exposure to dust, fumes, and chemicals
- Alpha-1 deficiency, a genetic condition
According to the American Lung Association, smoking is responsible for over 85% of COPD cases. However, the numbers vary between sources. For example, the National Institutes of Health states that up to 25% of people with COPD have never smoked.
There are a number of ways to reduce one’s risk of COPD, such as avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke and air pollution, but smokers are encouraged to quit as soon as possible.
People Most at Risk for Contracting COPD:
COPD is more commonly found in older people with symptoms normally starting at age of 40 or older. If one has an alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, one may experience signs of COPD at a younger age.
Managing and Treating COPD in Seniors
Seniors with COPD can make lifestyle changes to help manage their disease, such as quitting smoking. To ensure a reduction of symptoms, a senior with COPD should regularly check in with a provider who is up-to-date with the senior’s medications and treatments.
Limit the Occurrence of COPD Exacerbation:
At certain times, COPD may become more acute. COPD exacerbation occurs when symptoms become aggravated or more pronounced shortly after they had started to improve. Limiting times of exacerbation can significantly improve a COPD patient’s quality of life.
Factors that can increase the severity of COPD symptoms include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Respiratory infection
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical exertion
To prevent exacerbations from happening, patients must follow their doctor’s instructions and avoid things that can trigger COPD symptoms.
A few lifestyle changes that can help COPD patients reduce exacerbations include:
- Quitting smoking
- Getting an annual flu vaccine
- Avoiding air pollution
- Inhaling steroids
- Utilizing long-acting bronchodilators
Note: Many seniors find it hard to hold their inhalers. If you care for someone with COPD, check in with a provider to make sure the patient is using their inhaler correctly.
Caring for a Patient with COPD
Caring for a patient or a loved one with COPD can be quite challenging. Seniors with COPD must receive regular check-ups and have their symptoms professionally monitored. Access to the right care, support, education, and resources will ensure a patient’s health and well-being. Patients who stay active and engaged can also better manage their disease and experience a greater quality of life.
For seniors living with COPD, comprehensive care is necessary. Whether they live at home or in a senior living facility, in-home comprehensive care can be a surefire way to guarantee COPD patients get the care they need.
8 Tips for Caregivers of COPD Patients
- If your patient is having a hard time quitting smoking, provide your patient with the support and encouragement they need to kick the habit.
- Teach your patient breathing exercises and techniques, such as pursed-lip and belly breathing. These techniques can give your patient greater control over their breathing during everyday activities, especially when they feel short of breath.
- Encourage your patient to clear their airways regularly through controlled coughing, drinking water, and using a humidifier to help reduce excess mucus that can lead to pneumonia.
- Incorporate physical activities into your patient’s routines that will help strengthen their respiratory systems and limit mucus buildup.
- Make sure your patient eats a healthy diet. Healthy eating will help your patient increase energy levels and improve their quality of life.
- Help your patient lose weight. Weight loss is effective management for COPD. Losing weight can take pressure off the respiratory system and help the patient breathe more easily. Put together a plan that will help your patient lose excess pounds.
- Ask your patient’s provider about preventive measures, such as flu vaccination, and have a provider help your patient take their medications to ensure proper usage.
- Encourage your COPD patient to get regular checkups from a doctor. A healthcare provider can give your patient advice on how to best manage the condition.
At Clare Medical, our providers are on call to ensure patients receive proactive, high-touch, comprehensive in-home medical care. Combined with remote patient monitoring technology, our providers will visit your patient’s home or senior living facility to administer lung function tests, stay up-to-date with their conditions, monitor their progress, assist them in using their inhalers, and make sure they’re taking their medications as prescribed. We serve the entire state of New Jersey.
Right now, during COPD Awareness Month, is as good a time as ever to learn more about COPD and how to best care for family members or patients suffering from this condition. Lung health is a critical part of anyone’s health regime, but older patients must be particularly vigilant.
If you’re caring for someone with COPD in the state of New Jersey, please reach out to Clare Medical of New Jersey today!
Call: (609) 474-0120 or Email: email@example.com