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FAQ for COPD Caregivers

If you are a caregiver for someone with COPD, you may have a lot of questions about how to best care for your loved one or patient. Being a caregiver is an important role, and it can come with difficult days. As such, it’s important to stay informed and get the answers to your questions as they arise to ensure that you feel as confident as possible about the care you provide. 


Rest assured that there is a great deal of information available about how to care for someone with COPD. Read on to find out what you should know and get answers to the most frequently asked questions by COPD caregivers. 

What You Should Know About Being a COPD Caregiver

You are likely to feel a lot of responsibility as a COPD caregiver, but it is important that you know where you can go for support and information when you need it. Right from the start, have a list of doctors, health care providers, support groups and other resources you can call on when you need answers. Have a support system in place to ensure that you are able to take breaks when necessary and make sure you do not take on more than you can handle. It can be easy to become overwhelmed as a caregiver, so be sure you reach out for help before you get to that point. Remember: You can only do your job as a COPD caregiver if you take care of yourself, too.

Educating yourself can help you feel better prepared for being a COPD caregiver. Below, read the most frequently asked questions about caring for someone with COPD so that you can fulfill this important role as confidently as possible. 

Top 5 Questions About Being a COPD Caregiver

1. How do I prepare for becoming a COPD caregiver?

Attend as many medical appointments as you can with the patient or loved one you will be caring for, and make sure you take plenty of notes and ask questions whenever you have one. Ask the doctor where you can seek out additional information and continue educating yourself about COPD and COPD treatments. Carry a notebook or tablet with you so you can keep all the information in one place. If you will be administering medical oxygen, make sure you talk to the oxygen supplier so that you feel confident using the oxygen delivery device and performing any maintenance or care that may be required with the oxygen equipment. Learn how to properly clean all equipment and administer medication or treatments from the professionals and ask for help when you need it.

2. How can I make sure my patient follows doctors’ orders?

This is one of the more common questions, and one of the trickier ones to answer. It’s not uncommon for patients or loved ones to refuse to follow medical orders when it comes to taking care of themselves and their COPD. Patients may insist on continuing to smoke, may refuse to use their supplemental oxygen when they need to or may even refuse certain medications. Unfortunately, as a caregiver, part of your job is to make sure that the person you are caring for follows their doctors’ orders. Thankfully, you do not have to do it on your own. In order to improve compliance in your patient, try the following:

  • Make sure your patient has regular follow-up appointments with the original prescribing doctor. Sometimes, all it takes is an extra nudge from the doctor who originally prescribed the oxygen therapy, medication or other treatment. If you are unable to get in to see the doctor, try making a phone call or sending an email to get confirmation that your patient does, indeed, need to be following their prescribed orders.
  • Ask the health care providers for clear, easy-to-read instructions that your patient can read themselves. That way, there is a lower risk of misunderstanding the prescription and the patient can more easily read what they need to be doing.
  • Follow up with more information about treatments. Continue to educate your patient (with help from their health care providers, if possible) about how their treatments work and why it is essential to their health to follow their doctor’s orders.
  • Seek a support group for your patient so they can speak to other COPD patients about their medical requirements. They will most likely see that their prescriptions are similar to those of other patients in the same stage of COPD.
  • If your patient continues to resist, see what can change. You may need to advocate for new medications, a different oxygen delivery device or new methods to quit smoking. 

3. How do I know when to be concerned?

This is one of the most essential questions you can ask your patient’s health care providers as a COPD caregiver. You should know exactly what to look out for when it comes to your patient’s health and safety, as well as knowing when you need to seek additional medical attention for the patient. Though it is important that you get answers to this question directly from your patient’s doctor (there may be slight variations for each patient), here are some general concerns you should be prepared to look out for:

  • Exacerbation: At some point, your patient will experience a COPD exacerbation (also called a flare-up) when their symptoms suddenly worsen, generally as a result of a lung infection or exposure to a pollutant. You should be prepared to act quickly and decisively when an exacerbation occurs as they can be dangerous and progress fast. Many flare-ups can be treated with medication (like bronchodilators, corticosteroids or antibiotics) or oxygen therapy, as prescribed by the patient’s doctor. However, some exacerbations require ventilatory support either at home with a CPAP or BiPAP, or at the hospital via intubation. Read up on COPD exacerbations to learn more about what an exacerbation is and talk to your patient’s doctor about how to treat them at home, as well as when to go to the hospital.
  • Infection: People with COPD are at a higher risk for lung infections because they struggle to clear their lungs effectively. Look for signs of infection, including chills, congestion, coughing up more mucus than usual, fever over 101°F, headaches, increased fatigue and weakness and sore throat. If you suspect an infection, seek medical attention for your patient. In addition, do your best to prevent infection in your patient by keeping the environment clean and tidy, washing your hands frequently and asking guests who are ill to stay home and return when they feel well and no longer display symptoms.
  • Depression: Depression and anxiety are common among people with COPD, so it is important to watch for signs in your patient. Signs can include resistance to seeing friends and family, increased anxiety with stress, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping or just seeming “off.” If you think your patient is experiencing new depression or anxiety, seek additional help from a mental health professional.
  • Exhaustion: Worsening fatigue or physical weakness can be a sign that your patient’s COPD is progressing. If you notice that your patient is struggling to complete tasks they were previously able to complete, like getting dressed or walking up the stairs, contact the patient’s doctor. It may be time to evaluate the patient’s COPD stage and make adjustments to the treatment plan.

4. How do I take care of myself as a COPD caregiver?

Since you are responsible for caring for your patient, it is vital that you take care of yourself, too. Schedule breaks throughout the day so that you do not get overwhelmed, and do not try to do more than you can reasonably do. You are only one person, and wearing yourself out puts you at risk of getting sick or experiencing depression or anxiety. You can only be an effective caregiver when you are both physically and mentally healthy, so consider seeking a counselor or therapist who works with caregivers. Make sure you have support in place for yourself, so that you can continue to support your patient.

5. How do I know when to ask for help?

If you think you might need help, you probably do—and that is okay. Everyone needs help sometimes, and caregiving is a tough job. If you feel overwhelmed or emotionally worn out, take some time for yourself to rest and relax. Talk to a trusted loved one or therapist and see what adjustments need to be made so that you do not get overloaded. If you are unsure what to do for your patient, seek outside help from their medical team. Remember: You are the COPD caregiver, not the doctor. You are not responsible for knowing exactly what to do at all times. Ask for help, so you feel good about the care you provide. 

Being a COPD caregiver is an important job, but you should not do it alone. It is important to work closely with your patient’s entire medical care team to ensure that you have all the information you need when you need it, so that you can provide the best care possible. Ask questions when you have them and, when in doubt, seek help and support.






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