Pulmonary issues can hinder a person’s ability to live life fully, but patients who enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can dramatically improve their capabilities and quality of life. Occupational therapy is only one critical part of a program that includes exercise, education, and support provided by a team dedicated to pulmonary rehabilitation, but the benefits of occupational therapy are many. Occupational therapy is essential to helping patients with pulmonary issues regain their ability to do many of the everyday activities that we often take for granted.
What are Pulmonary Issues?
The respiratory system is a complex group of organs and tissues that work together to help you breathe. It includes the lungs, airways, blood vessels, and even the muscles that make it possible for your lungs to inhale and exhale. Your lungs are a central part of this system, expanding and contracting constantly to bring in fresh oxygen, move it throughout your body, and push out waste gases such as carbon dioxide.
What happens, then, when you have a pulmonary disease? Pulmonary diseases, also known as lung diseases, are any of the issues with the lungs that prevent them from functioning properly. In the most general sense, pulmonary issues affect how well a person can breathe. The airways in your lungs that carry oxygen and other gases could be narrow or blocked. The tissues in your lungs could become damaged and constrained from expanding fully. Your blood vessels in the respiratory system could suffer inflammation, clotting, and scarring. Patients with pulmonary disease may complain of not being able to take a full and deep breath or might feel like they are breathing through a very narrow passageway.
Difficulty breathing can be caused by a variety of pulmonary issues such as asthma, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension, and lung cancer. One of the most common pulmonary issues is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide, affecting more than 16 million Americans. This is a progressive disease that’s usually the result of long-term exposure to cigarette smoke or other irritants. People with COPD have chronic inflammation in the lungs that obstructs the airways and makes it more difficult to breathe.
The Role of Pulmonary Rehabilitation
When a patient can’t breathe properly because of a pulmonary issue like COPD, they often need to go through a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which combines numerous therapies to help patients breathe better and improve their quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs include supervised physical exercises specifically designed to improve your heart and muscle strength, increase energy levels, and help you use oxygen more efficiently. Therapists in the program will teach patients breathing exercises to ensure they are expelling stale air from the lungs and improving oxygen intake. The program will also provide education to help patients understand pulmonary disease better, how it affects them, and how their treatment works. A pulmonary rehabilitation team can be made up of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, exercise specialists, and dietitians.
Benefits of Occupational Therapy in Pulmonary Rehabilitation
An important component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program is occupational therapy. Occupational therapists help their patients define goals and then recommend interventions, equipment, and technologies to help them return to daily living. Problems with breathing can limit a patient’s ability to be independent and carry out everyday activities such as putting on clothes, making the bed, hanging up laundry, and cooking meals. An occupational therapist can help patients struggling with pulmonary issues learn and practice strategies to reduce oxygen consumption in their activities of daily living. There are many benefits of occupational therapy for pulmonary issues, most important that it empowers patients to be more independent and makes it safer for them to live at home.
For the occupational therapy component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program, occupational therapists will first work with patients to understand the specific activities of daily living they are struggling with. Patients might be asked to identify both activities they need to do and important activities that they value most and want to regain. Is it being able to make the bed? To cook at home? Go to the beach? Go to their favorite coffee shop?
Then the occupational therapist might guide and teach the patient various techniques for carrying out the activity safely. This could include teaching them:
- Methods of breathing while they perform the activity
- How to carry out the activity using less energy
- How to rest during the activity
- How to modify the environment while performing the activity
The following are only a few examples of specific strategies an occupational therapist might teach their patients. Each of the activities might be carried out with the aid of a breathing technique also taught by the occupational therapist.
- Doing laundry - Instead of standing up and getting the laundry piece by piece out of the machine and hanging the items on a regular drying rack, the patient is taught how to sit down during the activity and use a reacher to retrieve the laundry. It’s then placed on a low chair before using a low, indoor drying rack.
- Making the bed – The patient is taught how to change the environment by moving the bed from against the wall to a position free from any walls and by raising it 10cm to make it easier for the patient to make the bed.
- Putting on clothes – Sitting down while dressing instead of standing up and using adaptive equipment to aid in the activity of putting on stockings or socks.
- Cooking – While preparing a meal, sitting on an adjustable chair and placing the ingredients on another chair at chest height.
The pulmonary rehabilitation program at Rehab Select includes occupational therapy as an integral aspect that promotes the health and well-being of patients with pulmonary issues. Occupational therapy plays a key role in helping our patients achieve their full potential despite the limitations of pulmonary disease. We conduct a thorough evaluation of each patient before creating an individualized treatment program that will improve the patient’s functioning, independence, and quality of life. Learn more about Rehab Select’s pulmonary rehabilitation program by scheduling a tour.