July 1, 2015
If you’re caring for a loved one with a chronic medical condition like COPD, you might feel drained much of the time. The medications, the appointments, the sheer logistics of wrangling the medical equipment involved—it all can seem overwhelming to manage. Fortunately, a few simple strategies can help reduce the stress a chronic illness can bring to caregivers and their loved ones.
The Challenges of COPD Caregiving
According to Statistics Canada, approximately four per cent of Canadians have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The prevalence is much higher among older adults and those with a history of smoking.
When a loved one receives a diagnosis of COPD, you may face a number of changes. More pills may be added to a possibly already bulging pillbox. Inhalers might appear, each with a unique dosing schedule. Doctor and respiratory therapy appointments can proliferate on the calendar. Portable oxygen tanks, tubing and a home concentrator machine might need to be installed and maintained.
If all of this sounds daunting to you, well, you’re not alone in feeling that way. Many caregivers find it difficult to manage their loved one’s chronic disease. Luckily, a little attention to organization goes a long way with a condition like COPD. These four tips will help you get organized.
1. “Outsource” Medication Management
Medication management represents one of the more confounding aspects of caring for a family member with COPD, since prescription therapy may extend beyond pills to include on-demand treatments like a rescue inhaler. One solution? Instead of trying to figure out a complicated medication schedule on your own, have a professional do it for you.
SimpleMedsSM by Home Instead® can be a great solution. SimpleMeds has experienced pharmacists to work with you and your loved one’s doctors to inventory all current prescriptions and create a dosing schedule. Then they send a monthly supply of the medication in pre-packaged units to your loved one’s home. Each individual packet is labeled with the date and time it should be taken. This system eliminates pill bottles and the confusion associated with which pill to take and when to take it. The service also can deliver inhalers for conditions like COPD.
Alternatively, you can ask a nurse to help you develop a medication schedule. Next time you take your senior family member to the doctor, ask to talk to the clinic nurse to help you understand what the new COPD medications are for. The nurse also can create a dosing schedule to help you manage the medications. You may need to make a separate appointment for this purpose.
If no nurse is available at the doctor’s office, ask your loved one’s pharmacist for help.
2. Get Help Coordinating the Logistics of COPD
Because COPD is a progressive disease (meaning it only gets worse with time), your loved one will likely face increasing challenges related to mobility, both at home and away.
In the beginning, simply figuring out the logistics of taking a trip to the grocery store with oxygen tanks in tow may feel insurmountable. How many tanks do you need? Where can you put them? How is this going to work when Mom needs both hands on her walker? You can reduce the stress of a trial-and-error phase by involving professionals for help from the start.
Consult a professional home care provider such as your local Home Instead Senior Care® franchise. Many of their dedicated CAREGiversSM have experience in helping their senior clients with walkers, oxygen hoses, tanks and more. They will be delighted to advise you about logistical strategies that can help at home and when getting out and about. By seeking professional advice, you can reduce the stress of figuring everything out on your own.
3. Set Up a Transportation Support System
A diagnosis of COPD may mean more doctor appointments or trips for respiratory therapy. If you’re like many family caregivers, you may not be able to take time off work frequently to take your aging parent to a multitude of medical appointments. Setting up a support system strictly for transportation can help reduce your stress in this area.
Recruit family members and friends to help shuttle your senior family member to appointments. You can set up a simple online calendar and ask people to sign up for specific appointment times, or you can ask people to commit to a ‘standing’ week each month. For instance, one person could agree to be available for transportation to all appointments during the third week of every month.
If you don’t want to impose on other people to help get your loved one to appointments, consider hiring a Home Instead® CAREGiver to provide transportation. These professionals will not only take your senior relative to any necessary appointments, but they also will take notes about how the visit went, what instructions were given and so on.
4. Prioritize Time for Self-Care
Between helping your loved one take medications on time, changing the oxygen tubing cannulas on a schedule and providing transportation to appointments regularly, you might feel COPD has taken over your life. To avoid burning out from the demands of family caregiving, it’s imperative you prioritize and schedule time for self-care.
One great way to do this is to set up one day per week to devote to your own needs. Have a friend or family member relieve you from your caregiving duties, or get a professional caregiver to provide respite care. Then use that “time off” to do something you really enjoy. Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate; sometimes just soaking in a bubble bath for an hour can act as the best stress-buster imaginable.
When you implement a self-care plan, you’ll be able to return to your caregiving life with renewed energy and spirit.
Helping a senior family member manage a disease like COPD isn’t always easy, but it can be managed with the right support. Instead of trying to figure everything out from scratch, involve the appropriate professionals for advice and organizing strategies. This will help you feel more in-control and less stressed by the situation, which in turn will improve everyone’s quality of life.
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