Here are answers to Frequently Asked Questions that may provide
insight for you as a family
2Family Matters: Frequently Asked Questions
By Richard Knowles, PhD and Brian L Tiep, MD
Here are our answers to some frequently asked questions.
- What is COPD? Can this disease be controlled? What is the outcome?
How does shortness of breath affect the person with COPD?
- How does COPD and shortness of breath affect the FAMILY of the
person living with COPD?
- What can be done to help the person living with COPD?
- What can family members do to help the person living with COPD?
How can the person with COPD be motivated?
- Why should I help my loved one who has COPD--didn't they bring
this on themselves by years of smoking?
- Is there something we can do at home or while traveling in the
- What can we do when everyone is angry, upset, or in a panic?
- Where can I learn more?
What is COPD? Can this disease be controlled? What is the outcome?
It means that the person has a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary (Lung)
Disease. The key words are chronic and obstructive. Chronic
means that it not curable, but it is certainly manageable. Obstructive
means that it is hard to breathe though constricted air passages.
This contributes to shortness of breath. COPD is a combination of
emphysema, chronic bronchitis and even some asthma. This sounds
like we are handing out more disease. In reality, this is a way
of understanding and managing a disease with multiple components.
It means that there are more opportunities to bring the illness
under control. (Emphysema results from the destruction or
enlargement of the alveolar sacs, tiny structures where air meets
the blood in the lungs. Bronchitis is an irritation of the
lining of the bronchial tubes which carry air to the lungs. Asthma
causes difficulty breathing.)
It is important that the person with COPD have been given a correct
diagnosis and has a doctor who fully understands the illness and
its total impact upon the family as well as on the person living
with COPD. Being short of breath and having the fear of not being
able to catch one's breath can raise the tension within the family.
There are many ways to relieve shortness of breath and to deal with
the emotions surrounding the symptoms of COPD. When the person with
COPD is able to understand and to manage the emotional issues as
well as the physical symptoms, there will be less stress for the
family. Such proven methods of self management can help bring emotional
balance back to the family.
The person with COPD may ask such questions as:
- What is self-management?
- How can this help?
- What about my doctor? Will he still help me?
For answers, see online selections from Courage
How does COPD affect the family of the person living with
The impact of COPD on the family depends on many factors: the personality
of the patient, of family members, and the family structure. COPD
can create changes in the family structure, but these changes can
be an opportunity for strengthening the family. Both patient and
family may be sharing a ride on an emotional roller coaster. This
is a dynamic process that is likely to change over timewithout
Watch for these emotional pitfalls: anxiety, depression,
anger and a cycle of frustration that rapidly spreads across your
entire family. How you and your loved one deals with this situation
will determine the quality of life for everyone in your house. Some
signs of these emotional pitfalls:
- sleeping in/ sleeping late;
- staying up all night;
- not eating; overeating;
- lack of communication; too much communication;
- not dressing, not grooming.
Recognize them for what they aresigns of needing help. Don't
be judgemental, do be helpful. Be positive and supportive.
At some point you may need to get in touch with professional helpstart
with the doctor caring for the person with COPD; this doctor can
best guide you to a referral to a mental health professional. You
will want to find a problem-solving professional who will help you
sort out these problems and help you find a solution. The ideal
professional will know about COPD and chronic illness and have experience
in family counselling as well as appropriate professional credentials.
What is the best way to care for a person with COPD?
Both patient and family need an effective approach to managing
this disease. We have come up with an acronym for COPD that may
help. COPD is: Co-Operation of Patient and
Doctor. This implies disease control where the patientís
role is to do good daily management; the doctorís role is to direct;
and the familyís role is to provide support and encouragement. This
is a truly co-operative effort! By this method, patients and their
families can enjoy a more normal and fulfilling life in spite of
How does a family member provide support, while encouraging or
Functional and symptom relief come from an understanding of the
disease process and the prescribed treatment by the doctor. Emotional
relief and support comes from such understanding and empathy. You
can learn about COPD and treatments for it, and you can help to
educate your loved one who has COPD. You can help support your loved
one in overcoming the barriers to activities that will improve their
quality of life. Here are some simple suggestions to consider.
Difficulty breathing can often lead to fear and anxiety. You can
remind your loved one to learn and use relaxation and pursed lips
breathing techniques that can quickly restore calm.
Staying at home can be like a prison sentence. Thus, although it
may be a strugglephysically and emotionallyto get out
of the house, the result can be to feel better. Getting out for
physical exercise, for a game of bridge, or even to meet with a
psychologist, can bring a new lease on life. You can encourage and
facilitate such outings.
The person with COPD may be lonely, anxious, or boredthey
may need a few minutes of conversation more than any prescription.
Although you probably can't be there every time your loved one needs
to reach out and chat, you can encourage your loved one to have
a long list of friends that form a network of support. Perhaps you
can help arrange transportation so that your loved one is not stuck
Why should I help my loved one who has COPDdidn't they bring
this on themselves by years of smoking?
Blame, guilt, anger, and despair may be natural responses when
a loved one is sick. We fear losing them and at the same time we
may blame them for causing their own disease. These feelings need
to be discussed openly and a way found to move past blame and guilt.
Some perspective on smoking may help. Smoking is not simply personal
choice. It is heavily influenced by tobacco advertising and social
pressure and smoking itself is an addiction that is one of the most
powerful known to human kind. Smokers are as much victims as people
making free choices. Not so long ago, more people smoked than not.
Those who have quit have overcome major hurdles in detox and habit
reshaping. Although most COPD is caused by smoking, it can also
be caused by exposure to certain chemicals or be the result of an
inherited lack of alpha-one antitrypsin, normally made by the body
to help protect the lungs.
Finally, if you grew up in a home with smoking, and/or if you
yourself smoked, you can find out if you have any COPD. Your doctor
can get you a spirometry test which only requires you to breathe
into a test device. The earlier COPD is detected, the sooner you
can stop the damage and save your lungs. If you do smoke, you need
to think about stopping for your own sake as well as for your family
What can be done in the home or automobile to improve COPD?
Maintain a healthy-air household. There should be no smoking, incense,
perfumes, or paint fumes. The filters in heating and cooling systems
must be changed on a regular basisoften monthly. During times
when there is extensive use of heating and air conditioning, the
resulting dry air should be humidified.
Donít forget that the car is an enclosed environment that demands
an even higher level of care. Avoid being out during high levels
of air pollution.
What can we do when everyone is angry, upset, or in a panic?
Perhaps a better way to look at this is to avoid getting into that
kind of situation. You should ask, "What can be done to keep the
COPD from getting worse?"
There should be open and honest discussion of how to deal with
the underlying illness as well as the emergencies that are likely
to emerge frequently.
Set up a partnership and plan with the doctor to help prevent disease
progression, avoid emergencies, and effectively avert exacerbations
(a worsening of the disease) through early detection and a rapid
Thanks to Gary Paluba, Ph.D. of the HealthyResources Editorial
Advisory Board for insights and specific examples for a family member
to give support and encourage greater independence.
Where can I learn more?