How do I care for someone with COPD?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

For individuals living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), daily activities can become increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. If you are caring for someone with advanced COPD, he or she may require significant help. Exacerbations, also known as flare-ups, may require the use of a mechanical ventilator and a breathing tube. Pay close attention to an exacerbation, as a worsening of symptoms requires prompt medical attention. When caring for someone with end-stage COPD, discuss how long he or she wishes to continue on supportive therapy. A medical directive will help ensure a person's wishes towards mechanical ventilation are respected. Educate yourself about COPD and remain patient.

To be a good caregiver for someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you need to help the person lead a healthy lifestyle and stick with his or her treatment plan.

One important aspect of COPD caregiving is encouraging pulmonary rehabilitation. This therapy helps the person increase the strength of breathing muscles. You can demonstrate your support and dedication by attending these sessions with the person you're caring for. Doing so also allows you to help the person perform the breathing exercises.

You may need to help the person with COPD take medication as instructed. This may mean you need to give the person the medicine, or you may need to make charts to ensure he or she takes the correct dosages at the appropriate times.

Another thing you can do is attend all medical appointments with the one you are caring for. Take notes so you can make sure all instructions are followed properly. This is especially important when the doctor explains how to use equipment such as a nebulizer or a handheld bronchodilator inhaler.

You will also want to take steps to make sure your home is safe for the person’s lung health.

  • You want to keep the person's inflammatory responses to a minimum. Make sure your home doesn’t have a lot of smoke, dust, fragrances or chemicals that give off fumes. You may need to avoid using your fireplace or wait to clean the house until the person you are caring for is out of the home.
  • Improve your home’s air quality by using a humidifier. Dry air can make the symptoms of COPD worse. This is especially important in the winter when the heat is on and air tends to lack moisture.
  • Consider having a home elevator installed. It can be a significant aid to an individual who struggles with stairs.

If you notice that the person you are caring for has any of the following symptoms, call the doctor:

  • more trouble than usual when breathing
  • increased chest pain
  • more mucus production
  • cramping
  • swelling
  • fatigue
  • sleeping problems

This content originally appeared on

To help care for someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) you should know what things, like smoking and other air pollutants, can trigger his or her COPD or make it worse. Winter may also be more difficult for your loved one because chest infections are more common. COPD may make him or her anxious about leaving the house, which can make him or her feel isolated, lonely and sad. If you have a cold, it’s best not to visit your loved one in case he or she gets your cold.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.