As the colder nights set in you’ll start to think about turning up the central heating thermostat as part of your care home’s preparation for the winter. However, as sensible as this might seem, research from the USA has suggested that a rise in indoor temperatures can increase the risks of adverse symptoms in individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, measured the condition of people with moderate to severe COPD and the frequency of their inhaler use to manage symptoms. It found that breathlessness was more commonplace as indoor temperatures rose and the use of inhalers increased in turn. The adverse effects of the higher temperatures were noted immediately and were seen to last for up to 48 hours.
The researchers claimed that their findings offered the chance to identify specific measures to support individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to warmer conditions and that optimising the indoor climate can be a useful method of avoiding the complications of COPD.
Read on to find out about the steps you can take to reduce the risks to your service users with COPD this winter.
Protect Service Users with COPD
For many older people living in care homes, winter is a time when their living environment receives less ventilation and the heating is turned up to create an environment which can exacerbate breathing difficulties. There is a natural temptation to keep rooms warm and draught-free in order to protect service users but it’s important to be aware of the effect that this may have on those with COPD.
4 Steps to Protect Your Service Users with COPD this Winter
- Manage the temperature: Public Health England (PHE) recommends an optimum room temperature of 18C so monitor room temperatures and adjust as necessary. If a service user insists that their room should be much warmer than this, consider whether they could wear warmer clothing or more layers instead and try to minimise any draughts.
- Provide support with inhaler use: Many older people are left to use inhalers independently without checking to ensure that their technique is effective. Take the opportunity to discuss the use of inhalers and ensure that your service users understand the reason for using them, the frequency of use and that their technique is effective. Understanding the difference between ‘preventers’ and ‘relievers’ and when each should be used can be particularly helpful.
- Minimise irritants: Winter is a time when service users are less likely to go outside or leave their usual living space so they may be exposed to higher levels of dust and fumes caused by cleaning. Aim to minimise exposure to potential irritants by carrying out cleaning when the person is in another room and avoid the use of sprays known to exacerbate breathing difficulties.
- Promote flu vaccination: Flu vaccination is the single most effective method of reducing the risks to people with COPD in winter but some are still reluctant to be immunised, often as a result of myths about it actually causing flu. Promote the uptake of the flu vaccine to both residents and staff and offer literature available from GP surgeries or pharmacies to help allay any concerns.
For more on best practice in managing COPD and other common conditions in care service users, read Care Quality Matters. We offer a 30-day free trial of our newsletter for Registered Managers – which comes with loads of downloadable tools and resources to help you provide the best possible standards of care.