Helping Your Patients Enjoy the Holidays
Jane Martin, BA, LRT, CRT, COPDF Associate Director of Education, shares some thoughts on supporting your chronic lung disease patients to enjoy holidays.
If you’re healthy and free of chronic disease, holidays can be stressful enough. But what about your patients with COPD, IPF and other chronic lung diseases? They might be looking at a holiday with anxiety and fear and be inclined to say, “I think I’ll just forget the whole thing and stay home.”
At first, this might seem like the safe thing to do, but our patients with chronic lung disease are already prone to experiencing social isolation, loneliness and depression. If it is possible for them to get out and participate in select holiday events and activities, while staying safe and well, we should encourage it. Here are some tips for discussing the upcoming holidays and how they can participate and enjoy.
Starting the conversation
Talking with your chronic lung disease patients about doing something they are anxious about may overwhelm them. Start by validating their feelings of anxiety and fear. “I can see why you would feel that way.” Ask, “What is your worst fear when you think about joining in a holiday event?” Listen carefully to their response, then suggest ways they may approach common barriers. Recommend that they consult with their physician before doing something new or different.
Avoid and/or work around triggers
Here are just a few examples of common holiday triggers and suggestions for your patients to avoid or work around them. Encourage your patients to:
- Scented candles – Ask their hosts if they wouldn’t mind not lighting them until after they have left the party. They can explain that the scent irritates their lungs and they won’t be able to appreciate the party if the candles get in the way of their ability to breathe.
- Cold and flu germs – Small children who are coughing and sneezing do not cover their mouth and nose. With children and adults, your patients should avoid shaking or touching hands and kissing on the lips.
- Cold air – Wear a mask or scarf over the nose and mouth to keep airways from having spasms, often causing an uncontrollable cough and more shortness of breath.
- Your patients should not walk farther than they're comfortably able to walk, especially in the cold air. If riding with someone, they might ask if they can drop them off at the door. If your patient is doing the driving, call ahead and ask the host if someone at the party can serve as a valet. Always have a cell phone when venturing away from home.
- If they can’t shop for gifts online, ask somebody to shop with them or pick up a specific gift when they’re out doing their shopping.
- If the party is at their house, your patients can involve guests and assign tasks. Children, and even teens, are usually very willing to help – and be shown appreciation for doing so. It will enrich their lives to learn a little bit about your patient's physical limitations and it will make them feel proud to know they’ve helped out.
Forgive and Live
- If your patient's COPD or other chronic lung disease may have been caused by smoking cigarettes, encourage them not to beat themselves up about it. They are not the only person at the party who may wish they had made different health choices. They are doing the very best they can right now to be healthy, and if somebody can’t deal with it, that’s their issue.
- Rushing around and hurrying is a huge problem for people with breathing problems. Encourage your patients to allow for plenty of time to get ready to arrive when they want and have breath to spare.
- Live in the moment. Don’t spend energy worrying about tomorrow. All of us are promised only today, nothing more.
With a little planning – and some clever thinking – your patients with COPD and other chronic lung diseases can get out, participate in holiday events and enjoy each season with family and friends.
Our friends with chronic lung disease have a way of improvising and being very clever, and there is a lot of wisdom out there. The COPD Foundation’s online community, COPD 360social, is a great place to ask questions and share ideas! Enjoy the holidays!
This page was reviewed on March 3, 2020 by the COPD Foundation Content Review and Evaluation Committee