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Real Change – or How to Talk with Your COPD Patients about New Year’s Resolutions

Posted on December 15, 2016   |   
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New Year’s resolutions – we all have them – or even if we don’t, we hear about them. It’s no different for your patients with COPD. But, something else we all know is that saying, “I’ll take better care of my health in the coming year” is far too general for most of us, let alone a person with COPD who may have six or more co-morbidities. Furthermore, “I’ll take better care of my health” is more than likely too overwhelming for the already overwhelmed person with COPD.

Does this mean your patients diagnosed with COPD or another chronic disease have to enter into the New Year with no hope for any improvement? Absolutely not! Here are some suggestions for talking with your patients about New Year’s resolutions.

Begin with One

Advise your patient to start by choosing just one thing to change or improve. You might ask:

  • What do you do in your day-to-day life that gives you the most trouble?
  • What is something – even if it is a very small change – that is doable?
  • What one thing would help you feel healthier?
  • What means the most to you?

Here’s an example: one common problem is that patients have a congested but non-productive cough and feel like their mucus gets “stuck.” Patients can address this specific issue by drinking more water and talking with their doctor about getting an airway clearance device. If they already have an airway clearance device but it isn’t helping, the patient should review its use with a respiratory health care professional who can observe the patient as they demonstrate the technique until they get it right. Another approach is to make sure airway clearance efforts are timed correctly with the inhalation of bronchodilator meds.

After initial contacts with health care professional(s), these things will take only a few minutes a day but will hopefully add up to a big improvement. Addressing a single issue like this one not only can improve your COPD patient’s physical experience, but will also provide them with an initial achievement that can be the impetus for further change and improvement.

Accountability

You’ve heard the old question: If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is there to hear it, did it really make a sound? If you make a New Year’s resolution but don’t tell anybody about it, and then it doesn’t stick, did you really make it in the first place?

Suggest to your patient to tell somebody about their goal for change or improvement. Caring friends, family members, health care professionals or clergy can provide support when things are going well as well as in those times when an extra boost is needed to achieve our goals.

Own the Change

Empower your patients to own the change and look at it as more of a challenge than a burden. Jo-Von Tucker, a woman with COPD who defied the odds, educated herself about COPD and became a national leader in COPD advocacy said, “Many people can be of help to us as we fight the good fight against lung disease...but they can't do it for us! They can advise, they can cajole (although they shouldn't have to), and they can cheer from the sidelines whenever we've won a major battle with an exacerbation.” She continued, “But they cannot do the exercises for us; they cannot take our medicines for us, and they certainly cannot breathe for us! We are the ones who must be responsible for our accomplishments in health management!” Owning the change and reframing it as a challenge can help to inspire action.

As you and your patients enter the new year, approach resolutions with thought and care. Using these approaches next month and throughout the year may make 2017 the year of empowering your patients with COPD to make real change and realize noticeable improvement.

Tell us in the comments: what approaches have helped you and your patients to stick to resolutions and achieve set goals?

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