Good social support improves self-care in COPD patients

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published June 29, 2017

Key Takeaways

Individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more active and more likely to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation if they live with others and have a caregiver, according to results from a study published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

“Patient engagement in self-care is the crux of COPD management,” said senior study author Huong Q. Nguyen, PhD, RN, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington. “Our goal with this study was to identify factors associated with self-care activities, including physical activity, quitting smoking, participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, adherence to medications, and getting influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.”

Dr. Nguyen and colleagues included 282 COPD patients (average age: 68 years; 80% white males) from two Veterans Administration hospitals and two academic medical centers. All patients had moderate to severe COPD, and 90% had a family caregiver while 75% lived with a family member or friends.

Researchers then studied the possible associations between healthy behaviors and structural social support (family, spouse, partner, care giver) via a validated questionnaire, and functional social support (support from social network).

They found that subjects who lived with others typically took 903 more steps per day. Those who had a spouse or partner as their caregiver were 11 times more likely to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation. Finally, those who scored higher on the functional social support questionnaire were more likely to receive a pneumococcal vaccination, and slightly less likely to smoke.

Neither type of social support was found to be associated with higher levels of influenza vaccination or medication adherence.

Thus, according to Dr. Nguyen, clinicians should assess social support in their COPD patients to determine if they have enough support to do all they can to remain healthy. For patients who lack such social support, she said, the health care team should help them “in marshalling social support. Similarly, health and social policies should acknowledge and consider ways to support the nearly 45 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States who are responsible for the vast majority of the day-to-day care of their loved ones.”

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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