November = National Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month!

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death in the United States, affecting 16 million Americans and many more who don’t even know they have it. In fact, more than 65 million people worldwide have moderate or severe COPD. Experts predict that this number will continue to rise worldwide over the next 50 to 100 years.

Gidget McAreavey, OT at Prairie Rehab explains in the following article what COPD is, its causes and symptoms, and how occupational therapy can benefit those who have COPD.

What is COPD?

According to McAreavey COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a chronic lung disease that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both. It affects the lungs and causes reduced airflow, which makes it hard to breathe.

With COPD, she says the airways in your lungs thicken and become inflamed and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed. The flow of air in and out of your lungs decreases. When that happens, less oxygen gets into your body tissues, and it becomes harder to get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide. “COPD is a progressive disease which means it gets worse over time,” says McAreavey. Check out the infographic below for a visual of how COPD affects breathing.

What causes COPD and what are the symptoms?

Gidget states the causes of COPD are:

  • cigarette smoking – most common
  • secondhand smoke
  • dust
  • chemicals
  • outdoor air pollution
  • genetic factors

People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than usual day-to-day variation and persist for at least several days.

How can occupational therapy help with COPD?

McAreavey states, “As occupational therapists, we specialize in assisting people to develop, recover, improve and maintain skills needed for daily living and work through therapeutic use of everyday activities.”

When working with patients who have COPD, occupational therapists can address:

  1. Compensatory breathing techniques
  2. Energy conservation techniques
  3. Stress management and symptom control
  4. Exercise
  5. Patient education and instruction on disease management
  6. Activities of daily living retraining with use of energy conservation and compensatory techniques to decrease symptom exacerbation
  7. Leisure activity exploration and participation

Occupational therapists can also assist a patient with COPD through lifestyle change, which is really what most of the above are addressing. When addressing these areas, occupational therapists are able to improve a patient’s occupational performance through habit and lifestyle changes such as: decreasing or quitting smoking, helping to avoid environmental triggers and increasing physical activity.

*Please note that physical therapy can also help with COPD. Physical therapy interventions are typically designed around an exercise program to improve oxygen exchange.

Jeff Steinberger, PT at Prairie Rehab says, “Due to the difficulty many people have with energy expenditures associated with COPD, we often start with our Prairie at Home program and transition to our outpatient clinics for further strengthening as the patient progresses.”

Gidget McAreavey, OTR/L, received her Associate of Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant in 1996 from the North Dakota State College of Science. She then went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Mary. She has worked at Prairie Rehab for 19 years and serves patients at our Sioux Falls and Hartford clinics, along with providing in-home therapy patient care through our Prairie at Home program.


Our therapy team at Prairie Rehab is ready to take the next step with you. To schedule an appointment or get more information, please call our main office at 605-334-5630. We would be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

More information about our Prairie at Home program can be found here. A full list of our outpatient clinic locations can be found here.

About Prairie Rehabilitation

At Prairie Rehabilitation our Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Hand Therapy and Speech Therapy experts are passionate about helping our patients reclaim their way of life and function. It’s about you; you are unique with distinct qualities, abilities, and needs. At Prairie Rehabilitation we embrace the philosophy of “Patient First” care; treating each individual with precise and personalized care. To achieve the best results and to speed your recovery, we are committed to utilizing the most clinically proven and current concepts in rehabilitation.

Infographic Source: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/copd-learn-more-breathe-better/social-media-posts