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Taking a person-centered approach to a COPD care plan allows you to deliver care that meets every individual’s unique needs. Read on to explore the six core concepts of person-centered care and how they can be used to achieve optimal results for COPD sufferers.

There are many “awareness” months and days in our society, particularly related to healthcare. November has been COPD Awareness Month for several years now but, even as a seasoned healthcare professional, this year it hit me a little harder than years past. I have had countless patients, often living in different circumstances with a COPD diagnosis or similar respiratory condition. I also have a few very close family members with COPD currently.  

Like most diseases, people often dislike the “label” and would not necessarily celebrate a month in honor of their diagnosis. While it can be useful to highlight common symptoms of conditions and the most current treatments, can there be more to it? Is there a different way to celebrate COPD Awareness Month and ones like it, but focus more on the people that are living with these conditions? It made me think harder. Everyone in healthcare can devote a little time, this month or any month, to think about the people they care for and how they are really managing in their daily lives with their conditions. In other words, focus on the person.  

There are 6 core concepts of person-centered care that everyone in the post-acute healthcare space and beyond can use every day. Let’s relate these concepts to COPD and see what we can all do to better help the afflicted people we care for—professionally and personally:   

Use the following person-centered care concepts to help manage COPD and deliver care that meets every individual’s unique needs: 

  1. Effective Listening 
  2. Valuable Conversations 
  3. Shared Decision-Making & Goals 
  4. Respect of Choices 
  5. Successful Care Planning 
  6. Emotional Understanding  

‘Effectively’ Listen to a Person’s COPD Symptoms, Struggles, and Concerns

Every person has a unique story, make sure you are listening to it! Not every person diagnosed with COPD will have the same symptoms. Similarly, not every person will respond the same way to the same COPD medication. Taking a person-centered approach to a COPD care plan entails effectively listening when someone tells you how they are feeling. Just like we discussed in our article on person-centered care for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and related disorders, take the time to listen and understand the concerns, symptoms, and experiences of a person diagnosed with COPD. How does the disease affect their daily life? Let them tell you about their day and how they are functioning. Don’t assume you know what it feels like to live with their disease.  

Care tip: Maintain eye contact, avoid interrupting, and make sure the person feels heard by you.

Engage in Valuable Conversations

Now that you are effectively listening, the next step towards a person-centered COPD care plan focuses on engaging in open and honest discussions about COPD, how it may progress, and the potential lifestyle changes it is causing. The hallmark of COPD is an inability to do activities because of shortness of breath. Imagine not being able to do something for yourself like take a shower without getting winded. Many people even say they “feel like they are drowning” when they can’t catch their breath during increased symptoms. Are you both talking about what you can do to help relieve that feeling of drowning and make lifestyle changes easier?  

Care tip: Encourage people living with COPD to talk to you about their symptoms, and share their thoughts, and feelings. Then see what you can do to encourage solutions based on your discussion.

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Share in the Decision Making & Goals for a COPD Care Plan

You’ve listened, you’ve talked, now what? Make a plan! Collaborate with people living with COPD and find realistic goals. Discuss what treatment options are working, and which are not.  

Does using an inhaler create a bad taste in the mouth of a person with COPD, so they avoid taking it routinely? Find their favorite mouthwash or gum to chew after their dose.  

Can the person wearing a c-pap mask at night tolerate it? Does it give them anxiety and disrupt their sleep? Maybe there is a different type of mask or an option to relieve their anxiety and get them used to the device. Something as simple as listening to an audiobook or soothing music may help distract from sounds of a mask and allow for better sleep.  

Always work together to adapt and tailor goals of care to fit a person’s lifestyle needs and preferences as you help manage their condition.  

Care tip: Remind yourself and the person you are caring for of the current goals and how they may be working or not. Always make changes together and share in the decisions that will create positive outcomes.

Respect the Person’s Choices about their COPD

So, what happens if you attempt to listen, have conversations, and make some shared goals of care but you don’t agree with the person’s choices?  

This can be difficult for a healthcare professional or a personal relationship with a loved one. You may hear things like, “I’m not taking my inhaler anymore, I refuse” or “I’m not sleeping with that c-pap and it’s not how I’m going to live my life every night,” or even, “I will not stop smoking even though it makes my COPD worse.” You must always acknowledge and respect the choices and preferences of COPD patients regarding their treatment and lifestyle adjustments, even if it doesn’t align with your views on the most effective COPD care plan. It’s up to them, not you.  

Care tip: Find common ground. Foster an environment where the person feels comfortable expressing their concerns and preferences without fear of judgement. Then perhaps you can find a different solution and adapt their care goals.

Successful COPD Care Planning

Be realistic when you adapt a person’s COPD care plan. Consider a person’s daily routines, their actual capabilities, and their choices related to their care. Sometimes people with COPD and other respiratory conditions refuse to wear oxygen because it is annoying to them or too cumbersome. Start slow and find that common ground where they may agree to wear it for a few hours of the day with several breaks as they get used to it. Don’t make a goal of encouraging a person to wear oxygen 24/7 if you know it is not attainable. Similarly, if you are trying to help a person with COPD exercise and lose a few pounds, suggest starting with light walking to build their endurance rather than running a marathon in a week.  

Care tip: Break down all care plans into manageable steps with clear instructions. Then follow-up and adapt as needed. There is no perfect plan to care for anyone, so change the priorities as necessary and don’t forget to celebrate positive steps–even the smallest wins!

Practice Emotional Understanding

Everyone working in healthcare is empathetic, meaning they emotionally connect with every patient, right? Sometimes we all need a reminder to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and offer a different kind of support. Don’t forget that managing a chronic condition is overwhelming for anyone. While a person may seem positive and upbeat on the outside, don’t automatically assume that is how they are really feeling. Imagine yourself facing the same challenges on a daily basis and how it would make you feel. 

Care tip: Check in frequently with people living with COPD and other respiratory conditions. Make sure they feel supported. Talk about how they are feeling, and always have a list of in-person or online support resources available for those who may need a little extra emotional support.

Remember this COPD Awareness Month and beyond, that person-centered care concepts will help you deliver care with compassion and create collaborative relationships that provide the best possible outcome for you and the people living with COPD and similar conditions.  

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Additional Resources:

Try the following resources for additional information, consider joining patient and caregiver online support groups or chats, and contribute to local fundraising efforts to help during COPD Awareness month:

American Lung Association: Finding COPD Support

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: COPD

COPD Step By Step

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