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End-of-Life Signs with COPD

According to the American Lung Association, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, and many others may have COPD without knowing it.

Although some people live for years with COPD, there is no cure. That’s why it’s important to learn the end-of-life signs of COPD and understand when hospice should be contacted.

What are the end-stage symptoms of COPD?

If you feel that your loved one is nearing the end, or that they are exhibiting the COPD end-of-life signs listed below, the best thing to do for them is contact a hospice. Crossroads Hospice can assess the patient within 24 hours if you’d like to contact us. Hospice professionals will help your loved one manage their COPD symptoms and will also address their physical and emotional needs at the end of life.

COPD End-Stage Symptoms:

  • FEV1 Less Than 30% of Normal: FEV refers to “Forced Expiratory Volume” and is the measurement of how much air a person exhales during a forced breath. This volume drops lower and lower through the four stages of COPD.
  • Chronic Respiratory Failure: Carbon dioxide is expelled from the blood when we exhale. Chronic Respiratory Failure occurs when your respiratory system is no longer capable of expelling the carbon dioxide. However, it can also develop when the body is no longer able to take in enough oxygen.
  • Shortness of Breath (dyspnea): While shortness of breath is something that can occur throughout every stage of COPD, shortness of breath at the end-of-life occurs even when the patient is at rest.
  • Anxiety & Depression: As their condition worsens, the patient is unable to do some of the tasks and daily activities they were doing previously. Because of this, as well as their worsening condition, many report an increase in anxiety and depression. Some stop eating all together.
  • Delirium: Many patients with advanced diseases experience delirium to some degree. The patient may be in and out of consciousness, restless, or incoherent.

Tips for managing end-of-life COPD.

As the family caregiver, you have a very special role in managing the end-stage symptoms and signs of your loved one’s COPD. One of the most important things that you should be doing is remaining in communication with their doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals. It’s important to keep the physicians informed of the patient’s symptoms, as well as administering medicine if need be. Additionally, you can help ease your loved one’s anxiety by talking with them, watching their favorite movies with them, or some other activity that will help keep their spirits up.

Try not to get frustrated or upset with them if they forget to take their medicine, or try to perform an activity on their own that you’ve told them not to do. We know how trying and stressful this time is for you, and it can seem like your loved one is actively trying to make it harder. But accepting their mistakes, their confusion, even their anger is all part of being a caregiver.  

Also consider palliative care. Separate from hospice care, which is for someone no longer pursuing curative treatment, palliative care can be administered at any time, and actively treats the pain, discomfort, and other symptoms of COPD, to make life better.

What else you can do for your loved one.

In addition to helping manage the end-of-life COPD signs, there are other things you can do for your loved one to help them get their affairs in order:

  • Discuss their financial affairs and make sure they have everything in order.
  • Ask them about their final wishes, including their funeral (is there a particular reading they would like? Music? Etc.)
  • If they aren’t already on hospice, talk to them about the benefits of hospice care and how it can help ease their pain and discomfort, thus making their remaining time better.

Learn about hospice eligibility & COPD.

If you believe your loved one is eligible for hospice, please review the COPD hospice eligibility requirements. Additionally, you can speak privately with a hospice expert by choosing one of the options in the blue Help Center bar on this page.

How can you predict the end of life? Download a free guide.

End-of-Life signs by disease.

Learn about the specific end-of-life signs of common diseases and illnesses:

More end-of-life resources.