The Unique Needs of Someone With a Respiratory Condition

Respiratory illness is the most common affliction in the world. Conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma affect millions of people and they’re especially common in the elderly. So, if you’re considering assisted living, respite care, hospice care, or any other type of senior accommodation for your loved one with chronic respiratory illness, it’s important to understand their unique needs.

First and foremost, you should know that chronic respiratory disease is treatable, but not curable. What this means is that you can take steps to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life of a respiratory patient, but you won’t be able to reverse the progression of the disease. Preventing exacerbations (flare-ups) of respiratory symptoms will be a key part of caring for your loved one. 

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Most people don’t have to worry about getting enough air when they breathe, but for someone with COPD, it’s a constant concern. COPD is characterized by inflammation in either the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lung or the bronchial tubes, both of which lead to a significant decrease in lung function over time. Pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the best ways to slow the progression of COPD and improve lung function.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are overseen by a pulmonary expert and include activities like exercise training, breathing techniques, and lung education. While some components of pulmonary rehabilitation can be done at home, for the most part, you’ll be working with a professional who will ensure exercise is done safely and effectively. As a result, if you’re considering senior living options like independent living or assisted living, you first need to make sure you have access to these programs.    


A healthy diet promotes full-body wellness. But for someone with COPD, it’s not so much about a “healthy” diet as it is the “right” diet for your needs. Breathing is part of a vital process in the body called metabolism. This is when your body uses the oxygen you inhale to break down the food you eat and turn it into usable energy while releasing carbon dioxide as a waste product. Because metabolism of carbohydrates produces a lot of carbon dioxide, many dietitians will recommend a diet high in healthy fats which produce less carbon dioxide.

There are many other things to take into consideration when creating a diet plan like weight management. Many respiratory patients lose weight because the simple act of breathing can take 10 times as much energy as a person with healthy lungs and loss of appetite due to resulting mental health issues. When you choose a senior living facility, you should ensure it can meet these unique dietary needs.

Exacerbation Prevention

Last, but certainly not least, elders coping with respiratory illnesses need a program that accommodates their exacerbations. An exacerbation is a sudden worsening of respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing, or wheezing. Exacerbations can be triggered by either an infection or an environmental factor like car exhaust, pollen, or cigarette smoke.

Wherever your loved one ends up, you should make certain they are in a place that’s sanitary and has limited air pollution. Rural areas are usually best because they have better air quality and you should take steps to ensure their indoor air quality is safe as well. Avoiding acute illness like the common cold is imperative for someone with COPD because the increased congestion can trigger a severe exacerbation. What’s more, following your oxygen therapy treatment plan will help you breathe easier and put you at a lower risk of experiencing an exacerbation. 


Chronic respiratory disease is a reality for millions of people around the world. But taking the time to find the right living environment for your loved one will significantly reduce the burden of the disease and allow him/her to live a fulfilling life. If you have any questions about respiratory symptoms, pulmonary rehabilitation, diet, or exacerbations, be sure to consult your doctor.