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Healthier living through sleep and respiratory care and wellness.

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How Can COPD Caregivers Help?

How Can COPD Caregivers Help?

How Can COPD Caregivers Help?

By Jennifer Nelson

Caregivers for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) face challenges helping their loved ones to better health and quality of life. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, an estimated 25.5 million Americans struggle to balance working with caring for a relative age 50 or older. Caregivers can provide the best oversight by taking proper care of their own needs, educating themselves about COPD, and keeping up with the latest information.

Here are some facts about COPD for caregivers:

1. Exercise is a good thing. Since shortness of breath and fatigue can be scary symptoms for COPD sufferers, they may withdraw from physical activity. To encourage them to keep it up within their limits, suggest they walk to get the newspaper or mail or tackle small physical activities they are capable of. How about a walk around the block or at the mall together, or other pleasurable activities that combine physical exercise with socialization? “Getting patients with COPD back to a functional quality of life is absolutely doable,” said Dr. Linda Nici of the American Thoracic Society’s Board of Directors, in caring.com.

2. Air quality is important. Steer COPD sufferers away from environmental irritants such as pesticide sprays and cleaning products with strong odors. Stay indoors when pollution or pollen is high and never let COPD patients become exposed to cigarette smoke at home or away.

3. Understand the difference between a serious flare-up and typical symptoms.Telltale symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, cough and phlegm. An exacerbation or flare-up typically is a worsening of any combination of those symptoms beyond their day-to-day variation. There are also early warning signs of a flare-up that may include increase in phlegm, fever, pain in chest, headache, confusion, insomnia, dizziness and ankle swelling—symptoms that aren’t usually part of sufferers’ daily symptoms. If you are caring for someone who has a flare-up, notify the doctor immediately and begin a predetermined action plan, which may include administering an increased dose of medication and/or adding other short-acting medications to open the airways.

4. Tackle food issues accordingly. Proper nutrition can help reduce carbon dioxide levels and improve breathing, so eating well is important. However, COPD sufferers may have trouble eating because of coughing spasms. Encourage them to recognize if certain foods increase symptoms and avoid them. Make sure they get healthy meals they enjoy and they eat when their energy is highest—usually in the morning. Also:

  • Serve frequent small meals to prevent breathlessness
  • Make sure they eat slowly to avoid swallowing air
  • Limit salt, which can lead to water retention and difficulty breathing; and
  • Make certain they wear a nasal cannula during meals if continuous oxygen is prescribed.

5. Help them avoid triggers. Caregivers should help COPD sufferers avoid the typical triggers that exacerbate their specific symptoms, such as strong cleaners, cigarette smoke, pollen, poor air quality, mold, dust mites and other allergens in the home.

What Smokers Can Do to Detect COPD Early

What Smokers Can Do to Detect COPD Early

What Smokers Can Do to Detect COPD Early

By Reyna Gobel

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), smoking is the major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, according to a 2011 Danish study, the early symptoms of the disease are difficult for the average person to recognize. Which means it can get worse before it’s confirmed.

The only true way to detect COPD early, according to the study, is through offering a spirometry to adults over 35 years old who have had tobacco/occupational exposure and have at least one respiratory symptom. Respiratory symptoms of COPD include cough, dyspnea (shortness of breath), wheezing, sputum or recurrent respiratory infection.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a spirometry test "assess[es] how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale and how quickly you exhale.“ The test is used to diagnose diseases that affect breathing and discover whether treatments are working.

The goal of the Danish study was to encourage spirometry as a method of early detection.

The study, which included participants without a previous diagnosis of obstructive lung disease but each had at least one respiratory symptom, were tested with spirometry. More one third of those studied tested positive for airway obstruction and appeared to be in mild to moderate stages of COPD.

Before COPD is in the later stages, treating the disease and quitting smoking can limit the long-term effects, including reducing the risk of death.

"Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD in up to 90 percent of patients in Western societies,” the study noted. Anyone who is either a smoker or has occupational exposure and has a respiratory symptom should get tested. Early detection of COPD can help improve treatment and management of the disease.

Wondering Why We Dream? It May Be to Cope with Life

Wondering Why We Dream? It May Be to Cope with Life

Wondering Why We Dream? It May Be to Cope with Life

By Jennifer Nelson

After a particularly trying day, many of us need time to “process.” But despite our attempts to think through or solve stressful situations while awake, a lot of our emotional processing takes place between the sheets.

It seems this could be the purpose of our dreams.

“Dreaming diffuses the emotional charge of an event and so prepares the sleeper to wake ready to see things in a more positive light, to make a fresh start,” writes sleep researcher and psychologist Rosalind Cartwright, author of, “The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives.”

Scientists have been debating the purpose of dreaming since the 1970s. Some thought dreams served no purpose; others thought it was our ancestors’ way of gearing up for a fight.

Now researchers who studied the brains of mice have theorized that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is when we process information, make new connections between neurons and essentially work out our issues, which gives deeper meaning to the phrase “sleep on it.”

When people don’t get REM sleep (meaning they don’t dream), they have a more difficult time processing complex emotions during the day. Persistent sleeping problems, scientists have shown, can lead to depression and anxiety.

In studies of people going through a loss such as a divorce or the death of a loved one, those who were depressed had the least emotional dreams, while those who coped well had highly expressive dreams. In essence, those who were coping well were working out their feelings in their dreams.

Likewise,dreams may serve as a dress rehearsal. When people in love dreamed about weddings or athletes dreamed about sporting competitions, dreamers were mentally preparing for their future. Cartwright explained the brain takes the emotionally raw material of real life and helps you process it in the dream world. What we see and experience in our dreams might not be real, but the emotions behind the experiences certainly are.

We dream about every 90 minutes, each dream cycling longer than the last, and most people have about four to six dreams each night during REM sleep. Apparently, all this dream-work is simply preparing us to cope with our lives.

Could Sleeping Later Help Improve Teens’ Grades?

Could Sleeping Later Help Improve Teens’ Grades?

Could Sleeping Later Help Improve Teens’ Grades?

By Charlene O'Hanlon

Parents of teenagers can attest that getting them up on a school day can be a difficult, if not impossible, task. Now Maryland lawmakers are looking into whether starting the school day later could help teens get more sleep, which could help them improve their grade point average.

In April, Maryland legislators approved a bill that required state health officials to conduct a study on the sleep needs of students and the experiences of school systems that have shifted the hours of their school days, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The idea is to discern whether starting the day later can help students get more sleep and how that might impact their ability to learn. The bill has a number of backers, ranging from educators to advocacy groups to sleep specialists.

“This is the first statewide action,” said Merry Eisner-Heidorn, legislative director of national advocacy organization Start School Later, in the Washington Post article. “It’s the first time it’s been looked at in this way. It’s huge, and every stakeholder is involved.”

The article noted that advocates for later high school start times point to research showing sleep deprivation has been linked to such problems as depression, obesity and car crashes.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Teens need about 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night to function best. The consequences of not enough sleep can include reduced cognitive learning and ability to solve problems, an increase in aggressive or inappropriate behavior and even an increase in acne, the NSF noted.

The state-sanctioned study, which is slated to be completed by the end of 2014, would include a review of the science of children’s sleep needs, the benefits of sufficient rest and how sleep deprivation affects academic performance, according to the article. It also would look at how school activities were affected in those districts that had changed its school hours.

Del. Aruna Miller, the lead sponsor of the House bill, believes starting the day later could help students excel in ways they can’t currently because of sleep deprivation.

“Studies right now are showing that when schools are starting too early, particularly for high school students, the students are not able to absorb all the material,” she said in the article. “Sleep deprivation has an impact not only on their health but their grades.”

As more people become aware of the risks of sleep deprivation, Maryland’s moves may become a bellwether for other states. And it’s a pretty safe bet students wouldn’t be complaining about being able to sleep later.

Summer’s Heat Could Exacerbate COPD Symptoms

Summer’s Heat Could Exacerbate COPD Symptoms

Summer’s Heat Could Exacerbate COPD Symptoms

Summer is the season when many of us spend most of our time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and the warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, however, the heat of the summer sun can worsen the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, or COPD.

According to research by Johns Hopkins University and presented at the recent 2014 American Thoracic Society International Conference, COPD patients exposed to warmer temperatures, whether inside or outdoors, saw their symptoms worsen.

The study followed 84 former smokers who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe COPD. Each was observed three times for a week at a time, with each observation period spaced three months apart. Participants measured both the indoor and outdoor temperatures and assessed their symptoms daily, including their lung production, breathlessness and cough production, as well as their need for an inhaler.

The study included 602 “warm weather” days, defined as the time between the first and last day of temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Of those days, participants went outside 48 percent, according to the results.

“Although participants spent most of their time indoors, outdoor temperature was associated with increased symptoms on days participants went outdoors,” the study’s authors wrote. However, while exposure to the outdoor heat did result in a rise in symptoms, it didn’t affect the need for medication or the patients’ lung function.

“The findings of clinically significant changes in disease-specific indicators of COPD morbidity support the need for adaptive approaches to protect such individuals from adverse respiratory health effects of heat exposure,” the authors wrote.

With the warmer temperatures fast approaching, COPD sufferers need to take action now to stay cool this summer and avoid acute exacerbation.

According to the COPD Foundation, signs of acute exacerbation include:

  • Wheezing, or more wheezing than normal
  • Excessive coughing
  • Shortness of breath that is worse than usual
  • An increase in mucus
  • Change in the color of your mucus to yellow, green, tan or bloody
  • Shallow or rapid breathing more than normal
  • FeverConfusion or excessive sleepiness
  • Swelling in the feet or ankles
Sleep’s Role in Everything

Sleep’s Role in Everything

Sleep’s Role in Everything

It’s a stock answer why we have bad days, feel cranky or can’t concentrate during the day: We didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or we’re not sleeping well overall. But although it’s often posited as an excuse, myriad studies show a lack of sleep does indeed impact just about every aspect of our life.

According to an article in Scientific American, the role of sleep is not yet fully understood, especially when it comes to biological functions. “Although we understood the function of every other basic drive 2,000 years ago, we are still struggling to figure out what the biological functions of sleep are,” the article noted.

Scientists have come up with a list of certain issues that are tied to sleep: “The slumbering brain plays an essential role in learning and memory, one of the findings that sleep researchers have reinforced repeatedly in recent years. But that’s not all. There’s a growing recognition that sleep appears to be involved in regulating basic metabolic processes and even in mental health.”

For one thing, scientists have discovered that for every two hours humans spend awake during the day, the brain needs an hour offline to process the information it takes in.

That explains why the average person needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed the next day.

What’s more, the article noted, sleep “[is] also critical in the extraction of gist from large collections of information and the discovery of rules that control that information so if you give various stimuli, sleep can help you determine what the rules are as to what the stimuli produce and can even help with the development of insight in patterns and rules that you didn’t even know were there.”

That explains the phenomenon of solving problems or discovering answers while a person sleeps.

Sleep, too, is linked to a person’s mental health, according to the article. “If you have depression, there’s a fourfold increase in your likelihood of apnea and if you have apnea, there’s a fivefold increase risk of depression,” the article noted. What’s more, “If you take people with bipolar disorder and sleep deprive them, you’ll flip them into the manic state.”

Sleep is important to our physical well-being as well, with study after study linking poor sleep habits to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and more. But, as the Scientific American article pointed out, sleep can have an almost immediate affect on our state of mind and later our state of being.