Caring for Someone With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Are you caring for someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease (COPD)? Being well-informed about COPD can help you understand treatment options, and help you and your loved one find the support that you may need.

COPD is a progressive lung disease, most commonly caused by smoking, that makes it hard to breathe due to obstructed airflow in the lungs. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are often referred to as COPD. 
There is currently no cure for COPD, but there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help. As a caregiver, you play an important role in helping your loved one manage their medical treatment.

Here are ways you can help:

  • Learn as much as you can about COPD and treatments that are recommended.
  • Attend appointments with your loved one's primary care physician and any specialists.
  • Prior to the doctor's appointment, be sure to keep a record of any questions that you or your loved one may have.
  • Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have, especially if your loved one is having more symptoms than usual.
  • Educate yourself and your loved one about the warning signs of worsening lung disease, which is also referred to as exacerbation.
  • Be sure to ask the physician for an action plan that details what to do in case of worsening symptoms.

In general, the following symptoms should be reported:

  • Increased mucus production or change in appearance of mucus
  • Increase in coughing or chest pain when coughing
  • Excessive trouble breathing while engaging in everyday activities
  • Swelling in the hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath causing trouble sleeping

American Lung Association: My COPD Action Plan

The American Lung Association recommends "My COPD Action Plan" be completed by the patient with their doctor/health care providers and discussed at each doctor's visit.

Additional ways you can help your loved one

Quit smoking:

If your loved one is smoking, you should talk to his or her primary care physician about programs and products that may help them quit. Sometimes, joining a support group can help! For smoking cessation resources and information about supports groups:

SmokeFree: A free resource that offers access to coaches and plans designed to support anyone who wants to quit smoking or chewing tobacco.

American Heart Association: Resources to Help You Quit Smoking

American Cancer Society: Guide to Quitting Smoking

Pulmonary rehabilitation:

Speak to your loved one and his or her doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. It is a structured, medically supervised program designed to help patients be more active with less shortness of breath. The program consists of exercise training and breathing strategies to improve lung function, education on lung disease and how to manage it, energy conservation, and psychological support.


Help your loved one manage their medications. Many times, worsening of lung function can be related to not taking medications as prescribed.

  • It is important that you keep track of the medications and make sure your loved one is taking them as directed by their doctor.
  • Speak with the doctor about whether or not your loved one should get the flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines. 
  • All medication inhalers are made differently. To get the most from your inhalers, ask your local pharmacist to review the proper technique.

Additional COPD resources:

American Lung Association

COPD Foundation

Get More Help

Did you know that Tufts Health Plan members have access to dedicated Care Managers? Care Managers can provide:

  • Personalized care plan promoting self-care.
  • Support for complying with physician's plan of care and medications.
  • Disease-specific educational material.
  • Education and support regarding medication adherence.
  • Education on how to recognize and alleviate warning signs and symptoms.
  • Assistance with advanced care planning.
  • Connection to community resources.

To learn more about Tufts Health Plan membership and Care Managers, call one of our local Medicare Experts at 1-844-455-3305 (TTY: 711).

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