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Are Your Nursing Assistants in the Know About COPD?
Did you know that COPD is expected to be the third leading cause of death by 2030? Because chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is so prevalent, your nursing assistants are required to care for clients with this disease. They need to know how to help clients cope with the changes that come with a diagnosis of COPD. Here is some information – and some practical advice – that you can share with your CNAs:
What is COPD?
You probably know that the term COPD stands for VSchronic Oconstructive Pulmonary Dit’s a disease. And, you may know that lung damage resulting from COPD makes the vital act of breathing extremely difficult, sometimes painful, and totally ineffective. But did you know that COPD develops gradually over a long period of time? For example, it usually takes years smoking before symptoms become noticeable. Although the progression of COPD is different for everyone, it can develop something like this:
Jim started smoking when he was 19 years old. He is now 27. His wife wants him to quit smoking, but Jim hasn’t noticed any symptoms of lung damage, so he continues to smoke. At the age of 31, Jim begins to develop a chronic cough. Sometimes he coughs up a small amount of mucus.
At 40, Jim begins to notice occasional shortness of breath. Over the years, his shortness of breath worsens. When he reaches the age of 47, Jim finally sees a doctor who diagnoses COPD and starts Jim undergoing certain treatments. He notices some improvement at first – less coughing and less episodes of shortness of breath. Jim decides it’s okay to keep smoking, just a few cigarettes a day.
In his early 50s, Jim begins to slowly worsen. Her COPD is progressing-despite medical treatment. Jim has repeated coughing attacks and constant shortness of breath. He loses his job and can no longer support his family. Now, each time Jim has a coughing fit, it takes longer and longer for him to feel better. (Unfortunately, his lungs suffered extensive damage before he finally went to see a doctor. This makes it harder to manage COPD.) At 55, Jim’s damaged lungs barely work. He should gasp with every breath of air. Jim dies at the age of 56, leaving a wife and two teenage children.
COPD is a chronic disease, which means that it continues over a long period of time. And his obstructive, because it blocks the passage of air, making it difficult to breathe. COPD is a pulmonary illnessmeaning it affects the lungs.
COPD is also a progressive and irreversible illness. This means that it gets worse over time and a person with COPD will not get better (once the lungs have been damaged).
The first symptoms of COPD are often mild at first and do not cause much concern. Over time, as symptoms worsen and do not go away, lung damage begins to occur. They are four main COPD symptoms:
- A chronic cough which can produce mucus. This is usually the first symptom. It may start out mild, then gradually increase in frequency and produce more and more mucus.
- Shortness of breath with minimal effort. It usually develops later and continues to get worse as the COPD progresses.
- Chest tightness. As lung damage progresses, breathing becomes more difficult. There may be a painful tightness in the chest.
- Wheezing or wheezing that occurs during breathing is common if the airways are swollen or blocked.
Other symptoms of COPD may include:
- Fatigue, depression and anxiety.
- Enlarged chest (also called “barrel chest”).
- Too little oxygen can give clients with COPD a bluish color to their skin, lips, and nails.
- Headaches, irritability and problems with thinking and learning.
10 tips for customer care
There is no cure for COPD. But, there are some things you can do to help. Here are some tips to improve the quality of life of your clients with COPD.
1. Supervise your customers when they use their inhalers. It is important that they know how to use them correctly. Using an inhaler sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often people forget to take the cap off! Tell your supervisor if you think they are using them improperly.
2. Ask to see your client’s inhaler. If you notice “powder” around the hole where the medicine comes out, the inhaler needs to be cleaned. Clean the cartridge by removing the medication cartridge from the mouthpiece and rinsing the mouthpiece and cap with warm water. It’s best to do this in the evening so the mouthpiece can “air dry” overnight.
3. If your clients have portable oxygen units, make sure they know exactly how much oxygen they have so they don’t run out during a ride. Its very important not smoke near oxygen. Encourage your clients and their family members not to smoke at all.
4. Try not to let your clients with COPD do too much in one day. Help your customers do their most important tasks or activities first-when they have the most energy. And suggest to your customers sit for maximum activity. Believe it or not, sitting uses 25% less energy than standing.
5. Remind your customers to avoid air pollution. Encourage them to stay indoors if the air quality is poor. Even small amounts of ozone can aggravate respiratory illnesses.
6. If your clients are short of breath during meals, you can suggest that they: eat several small meals instead of three large ones; rest before eating; eat slowly and chew food well; breathe evenly when chewing; take a long time to eat; and avoid hard-to-eat foods.
7. Stay hydrate is important too. Encourage your clients to drink plenty of fluids. This is a good way to keep mucus loose so it can be coughed up.
8. Avoid wearing strong perfumes or using strong-smelling cleaning fluids around clients with COPD.
9. Many people with COPD also have allergies or asthma. If your customers have allergies, try to be aware of things that bother them, such as house dust, pollen, strong odors, cigarette smoke, and pets. Help them avoid these allergy “triggers”.
10. Remember…encourage your clients and their family members not to smoke. Tell them that more than a million smokers successfully quit this habit every year. Of course, it is not easy to quit. Most smokers do five try to stop before they actually do. But there are many products on the market to help you, such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine nasal spray, and nicotine inhalers. Congratulate and support your customers when your customers quit smoking. (And be a good example yourself by not smoking!)
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