Maintaining Your Independence Despite COPD Symptoms

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Keys to Staying Mobile, Happy, and in Charge of Your Life

Lethargic days and breathless nights can sap your strength, and if you’re not careful your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms will get the better of you. To make matters worse, COPD will progress as time goes on, especially if you don’t strive to slow down the lung damage and deterioration.

Taking a proactive role in your COPD now will lead to a brighter future; not only will your efforts make life more comfortable, they can also protect your independent lifestyle for years to come. Start with some proven strategies, add a bit of self-confidence, and you’ll be surprised at your ability to take back some control over your COPD symptoms and your life.

Stay Fit

Staying flexible, fit and energetic is going to help with every aspect of your daily life, so make health and fitness your top priority. This involves replacing bad habits with better ones, getting to know how to fuel your body properly, and having the wisdom to know when to rest.

Exercise

  • Work out regularly. Everything from your risk of heart disease to your risk of infection drops dramatically once you commit to an exercise regimen. Experts suggest working out five times a week is appropriate for everyone, simply adjusting your level of exertion to suit your own limits.
  • Rest appropriately. Staying active is crucial, but so is resting your body before you overextend yourself. Get used to breaking workouts up with short rests. For instance, walk a route that has several benches to make use of along the way.
  • Practice pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehab program ties together education, targeted breathing exercises, coping skills and support for one exceptionally helpful treatment plan. Research has shown pulmonary rehab programs can significantly improve quality of life and reduce your chances of hospitalization.

Eat Well

Malnutrition and weight loss are common problems with COPD, and they can quickly degrade your whole-body health. Food is probably the last thing on your mind when your chest is in pain, but you need to take in enough wholesome calories each and every day to keep your immune system up. Most COPD exacerbations come on the heels of an infection, so a strong and healthy immune system is very important.

If you have trouble keeping up your appetite and eating regular meals, give these strategies a try:

  • Eat frequently. Have small meals and snacks several times a day, spaced evenly.
  • Save liquids for after the meal. Beverages fill you up, but not with the nutrients and healthy calories you need.
  • Supplement with nutritional drinks. If you can’t seem to eat enough food, add meal replacements like Ensure or Boost to improve your calorie intake.

Prevent Infection

Respiratory infection is your biggest enemy, so you should take good measures to avoid colds and flus. Make handwashing your number-one habit, and never miss your annual flu shot: head to a clinic at the beginning of flu season to get immunized for the months ahead.

Chest infections can quickly spiral out of control, leading to dangerous complications like pneumonia with COPD. You should get the pneumonia vaccine every five years, and if you do come down with a respiratory illness, put aside your busy schedule and focus all your efforts on rest and recovery.

Stay Connected

It may seem illogical, but your ability to take care of yourself actually rests on your wider support network. The people in your life provide emotional support and help you develop and maintain your bright personality. You can use the energy of that community to take better control over your own life.

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that a lack of social connection can have serious consequences for your mental health. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety and paranoia before you know it, and this can make your physical symptoms much worse.

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Develop a Support Network

Support groups are plentiful, so whether you’re itching to get out of the house or prefer to connect virtually from the comfort of your chair, there’s no reason to sit in solitude.

If you’re having trouble communicating because of your breathlessness, don’t shy away from company completely. Instead, speak slowly, taking breaks as you need them, and simply enjoy being around kind and compassionate friends.

Psychological Help

An unbiased yet compassionate voice can do wonders for your perception, self-confidence and mood. If you don’t have a circle of close friends and family to lean upon and share with, consider seeing a professional listener. A psychologist can help you work through any number of problems related to your COPD, and in the process provide some much needed social connection.

Of course, regardless of the supplementary therapies you use, you should always stick closely to your medication plan. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids are both important measures to manage COPD, but they each com with specific guidelines. Trust your doctor’s advice and take all of your medication exactly as prescribed.

Financial Assistance for Disability

Living with a chronic illness can take a big toll on your bank account, and money troubles will only add to your stress and discomfort. American residents can potentially call upon assistance programs to lessen the financial burden of medications, therapies and hospitalizations, so it’s worth taking some time to see if you might qualify.

Check out the disability evaluation under social security to see which tests, medical proof and other requirements are necessary for your application. Also, you can work with your hospital and insurance company to come up with a manageable payment plan to help you through.

Stay Safe

COPD hampers your ability to heal, so if you get injured you could lose your independence quickly and for quite a while. The more energy you have, the more deliberate you’ll be able to move, and deliberate movements will help you stay on your feet.

Sitting instead of standing will save you energy, so try to perform as many household tasks from the comfort of a chair instead of on your feet. Find a few lightweight stools or chairs of differing heights so you can place them in front of various workspaces — the kitchen counter, the bathroom mirror, the washer and dryer — whenever you need to perform a task there.

Other tips to help you stay mobile, upright and injury-free include:

  • Installing hold bars and railings in the hallway, bathroom and stairways
  • Keeping clutter and loose carpets of your floors
  • Using seat boosters for toilets and chairs to help you stand up

Try to limit unnecessary activity whenever possible. For instance, stepping out of the shower and into a big, fluffy terry cloth robe will eliminate the need to towel-dry your body. Likewise, letting dishes air-dry will save you the energy of drying them off yourself.

Give Yourself a Break

COPD can be as emotionally complicated as it is physically uncomfortable. Often, there’s a tangled mess of guilt, anger, sadness and poor self-image to contend with, and bad days can seem very bad indeed. In order to cope with the challenges and stay focused on your long-term goals, you’ll need to focus on the good and forgive yourself for your limitations.

Remember COPD is a disease that affects your life — it’s not life itself. Try to keep things in perspective, and look on the bright side of every situation. Waking up with pain and fatigue can seem like a terrible burden, but on the other hand, you still woke up. When life seems overwhelming, try to break down your day into more manageable parts, and give gratitude for the little gains you make as you stick to your healthy, proactive COPD plan.

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