According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. It is a group of conditions that cause breathing difficulties. Tobacco smoke plays a key role in those who have been diagnosed, along with exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, and respiratory infections.
While there are many treatments available that can help control symptoms, there is no cure, so it’s still important to know what to expect at the end of life—and what kind of help is available.
COPD’s course is hard to predict because it progresses at different rates. Everyone is different and for this reason it’s important to note that life expectancy is also difficult to determine. Many factors can also play a role, including a person’s smoking history, fitness level, nutrition status, and degree of breathlessness.
However, many people have the following symptoms during end-stage COPD as well as in earlier stages of the illness: coughing, wheezing, large amounts of phlegm/mucus, chest tightness, pain, fatigue, insomnia, and/or constipation.
As a person approaches the end of life, they may experience the following:
Samaritan is a member of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation, a network of not-for-profit hospice and palliative providers across the country. If you know someone outside of our service area who is living with advanced illness and can benefit from hospice or palliative care, please call 1 (844)-GET-NPHI (844-438-6744) for a referral to a not-for-profit provider in your area.
People with end-stage COPD often prefer to focus on improving their quality of life, rather than seeking invasive measures to prolong life.
Treatment aimed at reducing symptoms and increasing comfort is known as palliative care. A patient can seek palliative care at any time including the day of diagnosis. It addresses the patient’s full range of needs: physical, social, psychological, and spiritual.
Near the end of life, patients can receive hospice care—which is comfort care for people with a life expectancy of six months or less.
Various treatments can help control symptoms and enhance comfort for people with COPD at the end of life. These therapies can be given by hospice as well as non-hospice providers:
While no one wants to focus on death, it’s important to plan for end-of-life needs, to help ensure one’s final wishes are met. In fact, advance care planning helps many patients feel better by increasing their sense of control and reducing their fear and anxiety. Here are some key issues to address with a loved one with end-stage COPD:
Finally, one of the most important things that family and friends can do is to simply be there for their loved one. Sit with them and share memories. Listen to anything they want to tell you. Hold their hand, play music, or read to them—whatever brings comfort. If you can’t be there in person, call or video chat. Your time and attention are priceless gifts to those with COPD at the end of life.