3 Things RTs Can Do to Improve Quality of Life for COPD Patients

 Published: November 14, 2018

By: Heather Willden


image of couple walking along sunset beach

Often COPD can impair a patient’s quality of life. What can RTs do to help their patients improve their quality of life? Stephanie Williams, BS, RRT, director of community programs, with the COPD Foundation offers tips for working with your COPD patients and helping improve their quality of life.

November is COPD Awareness Month

Tip #1 – Engage

  • Talk to the patient about what they know about COPD.
  • Ask them what they feel they need to know in order to live their healthiest life.
  • Ask them what their goals are and what they would like to accomplish.

“Knowing your patient’s goals can help you find meaningful ways to help improve their quality of life,” Williams said.

Tip #2 – Educate

“This builds on the engagement from #1, as you find out what they know about COPD, that opens the door for education to happen in a natural way,” Williams said. “An interesting thing happens during education—the patient learns something to help them manage their COPD, but the RT will almost always learn something helpful from the patient that they can share with other patients.”

Tip #3 – Empower

Williams poses the question: Do you have someone who encouraged you through difficult times in your life?

“An RT has the ability to be a great encourager and motivator for patients they care for, too,” Williams said. “Our patients look to us to guide them and help them find ways to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. They also look to us to help them find ways to grow and live their life to its fullest.”

Getting back to life

Williams recounts a personal experience she had working with a patient:

I had a patient whom I worked with in the pulmonary rehab setting who was very deconditioned, struggling to quit smoking, and felt a bit like a victim of the disease. He had been an executive in a large company and was accustomed to ‘calling the shots’ and being in control and had felt blindsided by the COPD diagnosis. During the initial interview and orientation to pulmonary rehab, we talked about what some of his goals were. He said that he and his wife used to love to go to the beach and take evening walks and watch the setting of the sun.

We talked about why they had been unable to take those trips in the recent past and then talked about what would have to happen to allow him to have that experience again. I could tell that he didn’t really think it was possible.

We began work the next day. A little time on the treadmill, a little work with some weights, a little education – and my patient was still doubting the possibility.

Getting stronger
Several weeks went by, and my patient was dedicated to attending his rehab sessions and was spending time at home doing some of his homework exercises.

I could see that he was stronger, but I knew he needed to see how far he had already come. So, I asked him to climb onto the treadmill and programmed it with his current exercising settings and he began walking along at a pretty good pace.

I asked him if he knew that he had already gotten stronger and he said he wasn’t sure.

At this point, I turned the speed of the treadmill down to the settings we had used on Day 1 and told him that this was where he started. He could not believe it! He became so excited and began to really believe that he might be able to get stronger and become active again.

Gone to the beach
Long story short, this patient and his wife took a trip to the beach and made some new memories taking a stroll on the beach.

Keep the conversation going

How are you working with your patients to improve their quality of life? How are you helping them get to the beach, or wherever their goals take them? Share your tips and experiences in the COPD Best Practices Community at AARConnect.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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