One of the lesser-known casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic was the closure of group pulmonary rehabilitation programs for COPD patients. The programs, often conducted in or near local hospitals, were suspended to protect their COPD patients, who faced serious health risks if they contracted COVID-19, and in many cases to allow the respiratory therapists who ran the programs to participate in the nation’s COVID-19 response. The program suspensions, while prudent, left many COPD patients without a substitute for the programs that were important to the management of their COPD.
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs allow people with COPD to engage in supervised exercises, practice breathing techniques, and access educational resources to stay healthy. Participants gain health benefits, like improved physical activity and decreased fatigue and breathlessness. Some research has shown that people who participate in pulmonary rehabilitation programs may live longer and experience fewer hospitalizations for their COPD. Additionally, people with COPD who participate in pulmonary rehabilitation following a COPD flare-up have a reduced risk of hospitalization.
In an effort to meet the needs of patients whose pulmonary rehabilitation programs were cut short, Respiratory Health Association undertook Project STRENGTH (Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home). Handout materials were created that provide instruction for simple exercises to perform at home, reminders about breathing techniques, and other management tips often taught in pulmonary rehabilitation programs. The goal is to allow the patients to maintain their health until they can safely return to their in-person classes. To address concerns that the rehabilitation at home activities do not require technological savvy, the resources are simple and straightforward. Online resources are available, but computer access is not required.
Project STRENGTH handouts cannot fully substitute the experience one receives in a live program, led under the supervision of a licensed respiratory therapist. Nor do they substitute for the camaraderie that often develops among the patients who participate in the live programs. But they do provide helpful in-home reminders of the importance of physical and breathing exercises to overall patient health.
“We look forward to the day when in-person pulmonary rehabilitations programs resume their operations,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Until that time, however, we all need to work together to help our COPD patients stay healthy and stay out of the hospital.” For more information about Project STRENGTH contact Respiratory Health Association, [email protected]