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This information was reviewed and approved by Kristen E. Holm, PhD, MPH (3/1/2019).

While you may be the one with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the people who love you also are affected by the illness. It is very important to talk to your family and learn together the best ways to cope with COPD. The challenges of COPD typically begin long before the diagnosis. However, when you find out for sure that you have COPD, you are likely going to feel lots of emotions like sadness, fear, anger, guilt, worry and anxiety. This is an important time for you and your family. Be open about sharing these feelings with your loved ones. Talk it out, cry together, hug each other, talk about how the diagnosis may change your lives and then plan how to pursue treatment together.


Acute Versus Chronic Challenges

Over the course of the illness, you and your family will face different types of challenges and will respond to these with different types of coping actions. Understanding how these coping methods are different, and learning when to use each type, can help families deal with the stresses of COPD.

  • Acute Challenges

    One type of challenge is an acute challenge. This is when something happens suddenly that makes the situation worse. Acute challenges include exacerbations such as lung infections and trips to the emergency room due to some source of unusual excitement or anxiety.

    • Response to Acute Challenges

      Usually, with a short burst of extra effort by you and by your support network, an acute challenge gets better or is solved. Family members rally together to support you and each other. 


  • Chronic Challenges

    The second type of challenge is a chronic challenge. This is a long-standing, slowly progressive problem that is not likely to go away or be "cured." Role changes are a chronic challenge that may lead to frustration and guilt. You may find it difficult to accept role changes such as not being able to shop or cook for your family like you used to; not being able to do as many household chores like cleaning, yard work or shoveling snow; or not being able to entertain over the holidays in as elaborate a fashion. Having to use supplemental oxygen and managing medications can also be chronic challenges.

    • Response to Chronic Challenges

      For chronic challenges, the better coping response may be to understand what the loss has meant for you and your family. Once you determine this, try to find a way to recover the value of what was lost, rather than recovering the exact same activity. If you can't ski together as a family anymore, maybe you can enjoy family walks. If not walks, maybe family dinners or game night. The sharing and togetherness don't have to be lost, it may just take a different road to get there. The only way to do this is by engaging in reflective thought and open communication with your family and support group. Try to be proactive and creative — with the right attitude, you can solve the problems chronic challenges present. 


Managing COPD Together Over Time

It's important to recognize that, over time, managing your COPD will require both types of response — sometimes for the same event. For instance, if you become acutely ill at a family event, it may require an acute response, maybe even a trip to the emergency room. Not only will the family be concerned about your well-being, but you will all also be dealing with the disappointment of having to cut short your "play time" together. Once the immediate crisis has passed, you and your family will need to recognize when to relax your vigilance from the crisis and switch to finding a way to manage any changes for the long haul. This may include finding new ways to play together. It is important to be flexible, as roles may change over time and family goals and plans have to be re-evaluated or changed due to changes in your health.


Step 5: Understanding Your COPD Medications

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