British Lung Foundation
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A decade ago, Edna Shattuck of Washington, D.C., began noticing that tasks she had no trouble doing before, like walking the dog and carrying groceries, left her breathless. When Shattuck, then in her late fifties, saw her doctor about her breathing problems, she was diagnosed with COPD

Without question, life as a COPD patient is at times challenging for Shattuck, as it is for many other seniors dealing with the chronic lung condition. Shattuck uses a number of medications, including inhalers and nebulizers, throughout the day to prevent her COPD symptoms from worsening. Though she can walk around her home, she sometimes has trouble with longer walks and needs to take frequent breaks. A mucusy cough, wheezing, and chest tightness make everyday activities like eating or exercising difficult.

Avrum Spira, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Boston Medical Center, says Shattuck's description of what it's like to have COPD is not uncommon.

"Those with moderate to severe forms of the disease can experience shortness of breath with routine daily activities like walking down the street or even moving from room to room within their house," he says. Realities for some COPD seniors include a chronic cough that produces phlegm every morning and the need for supplemental oxygen at home. Patients may have frequent exacerbations of COPD symptoms, during which coughing and sputum production will worsen, and they may feel short of breath even at rest, he adds.

What's It Like to Have COPD?

COPD patients may need to make significant accommodations in response to the condition's progression, according to Daniel Dilling, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Loyola University Chicago's Stritch School of Medicine:

•You may need to wear supplemental oxygen all night and use your first respiratory medication, either a handheld inhaler or a nebulizer treatment, as soon as you wake up.

•You may get winded by simply having a conversation, and a typical day can include anywhere from two to 10 inhaler treatments.

•You may need to wear oxygen while getting dressed and even while showering. Even then you may experience considerable shortness of breath.

•Getting around the house may require a long oxygen tube that snakes through the rooms.

•Going out may require packing one or two portable oxygen tanks.

Managing COPD Symptoms

Despite the challenges of living with COPD, Shattuck is quick to point out that she still has good quality of life, and she's determined to maintain a positive attitude.

"One of the most important things I've learned since I was diagnosed with COPD is to recognize the changes in my condition while not letting them take over my life," she says. "I've faced up to the fact that it's called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for a reason. It's mine for the rest of my life, and yes, it probably will get worse, but that doesn't mean I have to curl up in a corner and wither away. I've learned to pace myself so that I can continue to join friends for a meal, view an exhibit at a museum, and, most important, walk in the park with my dog."

2 Replies

thats a good way to look at it, its very easy to withdraw from life and people with our condition, but like you say if we pace ourselves we can still enjoy life albeit at a slower pace x


Yes,a great article,thanks for sharing Martin.I agree with what you said June,I found when I got considerably worse,I initially felt very down hearted,and I am normally quite positive!

However decided to work out, what works for me, and what does not.

Shopping, coffee with friends etc,time with kids and grandkids etc.Found all these things can be done BUT with time limits! Visiting etc 2-3 hours fine,but make sure its finished before the 3,& probably get home & have a nap.Drive to the water,and have a walk,& then sit & people watch,till I feel tired,& so on.

Love cooking,every 2nd day now,sit on a stool at the counter,and prepare everything,before getting up, and putting it all together,anyway enough of that!

The point I am making,is we dont have to give up what we enjoy,but need to plan how far we can go with it, spacing things,making time limits on activities.

Yes, we are all going to have days of frustration,and feeling no energy left, but we must try and remain positive,and not sink into helplesness.We all have something to offer.

Breathe easy,Wendells xx


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