Coping with COPD in a pandemic world

A virtual wellness conference will offer vital advice to people suffering from COPD in Ireland this winter. Some of those involved explain why the pandemic makes it a necessity
Coping with COPD in a pandemic world

WARNING SIGNS: COPD is the third leading cause of death globally

COPD Support Ireland, the national umbrella group for COPD support groups nationwide, is to host a virtual wellness conference for people with COPD on Saturday, November 21 (1-4pm).

The conference, ‘Living Well with COPD in a Covid World’ takes place in the same week as World COPD Day (November 18) and will see speakers address a range of topics, from minding our mental health to having a better night’s sleep, from winter preparedness to singing for better lung health.

People with COPD can register for the conference free of charge at www.copd.ie

It is estimated there are almost 500,000 people over 40 in Ireland living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is perhaps more commonly known as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and is characterised by breathlessness and persistent coughing with or without phlegm.

It is the third leading cause of death globally, with exposure to tobacco smoke and other environmental toxins the main risk factors for developing the disease, alongside family history and having chronic asthma.

COPD is the commonest disease-specific cause of emergency hospital admissions among adults and Ireland also has the highest rates of hospitalisation in OECD countries.

Among the topics and speakers to feature at the conference are:

“Wintering well during a global pandemic” – Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail, General Practitioner

SingStrong: singing for better lung health” – Dr Róisín Cahalan, Lecturer in Physiotherapy (UL) and Ciara Meade, Sing Strong facilitator and MA Community Music

“Staying calm and protecting our mental health” – Prof. Brendan Kelly, Consultant Psychiatrist

A COPD information pack has also been developed, incorporating a booklet and a communication card. It can be ordered for postal delivery free of charge by texting the word ‘COPD’ plus name and address to 51444 (standard network charges apply).

GP Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail is urging people with COPD to do three things to keep three steps ahead of COPD this winter:

“Number one, make sure to get your influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.

“Two, make sure you have an adequate supply of your medication, which may include a back-up supply of antibiotics and steroids.

“And three, don’t delay in seeking help. GPs and hospitals are continuing to see patients during lockdown, so if you feel unwell, we are here to help. By taking these actions, we can play a real part in keeping three steps ahead of COPD.”

Joan Johnston, National Co-ordinator, COPD Support Ireland, believes the pandemic has had a huge impact on the mental health of people with COPD. “That is why, with our virtual wellness conference, we wanted to focus not only on supporting the physical health of people with COPD but also on how we can support them to better deal with the psychological consequences of life during this pandemic.

“We will have experts providing tips specific to people with COPD on the coping strategies they can adopt to support their mental resilience. We will even have tips for a better night’s sleep and a singing lesson to improve breathing, fitness and overall well-being.

“Of course, not everyone is familiar with computers and applications such as Zoom. That is why we encourage family members to support the person with COPD in their lives in accessing this conference.

“We have also linked up with Age Action Ireland to ensure those registering can be put in touch with Voluntary Tutors to support them. We would encourage people to get in touch with us early if they need this support.”

Top Five Tips for People with COPD, by Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin

1. Follow the public health guidance. It applies to you. Adhering to it will minimise your risk, protect other people, and keep your anxiety in check. Stay informed, but do not obsess. Limit your media consumption about the virus to 15 minutes twice per day, focused on reliable sources such as the Government of Ireland and World Health Organization websites (www.gov.ie and www.who.int).

Don’t fill in knowledge gaps with speculation or random musings on social media. Public health advice is based on the best available knowledge. Trust it.

2. Focus on what you can control. It is useful to think of the slogan, ‘Think Global, Act Local’. Small actions, like hand-washing, matter greatly, both in the bigger picture and in our own lives.

3. Talk about your feelings. If you want to be heard, listen. At a time of high anxiety, it is especially important we label our feelings as emotions rather than facts, and we engage in direct, truthful communication. Remember, proportionality is the key. Anxiety and panic can seem infinite, but nothing is truly infinite.

4. Do other things. While social distancing, self-isolation and general anxiety can place certain limits on our activities, there is still plenty that we can do, both inside and outside.

Eat well, pay attention to sleep, go outside when possible, do some exercise. Also, find an activity that absorbs you and wipes all your worries away to refresh your mind — consider running, meditating, yoga, or knitting!

5. Reward yourself. Recognise your achievements and consciously practice compassion for yourself and others. The current situation is difficult for everyone in different ways. Balancing sadness with hope is a real challenge, but it is possible. Focus on daily activities, short-term plans and cultivating compassion for everyone, including yourself.

Prof. Brendan Kelly is the author of Coping with Coronavirus: How to Stay Calm and Protect Your Mental Health. The e-book costs €1 and proceeds go to the Irish Red Cross.

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