Coaching patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on how to manage stress, practice relaxation, and participate in light exercise can boost a patient’s quality of life, improving both mental and physical health, according to a new study.
About 15 million Americans have COPD, a progressive disease that limits airflow in the lungs. It is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the five-year study, which was based at Duke University and Ohio State University, 147 COPD patients participated in coping skills training. Psychologists provided regularly scheduled phone sessions, offering patients and their caregivers general information about COPD, step-by-step instructions in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, tensing and releasing muscles, and ways to manage their reactions to stressful events.
Another group of 151 patients also received regular phone consultations, but only on topics such as medication and nutrition. They did not receive specific coping techniques.
Participants who received training in coping skills reported improvements in their overall mental health, and lessened depression, anxiety, fatigue and shortness of breath when compared to the other group, according to the study’s findings.
Although there were no improvements in COPD-related hospitalizations or deaths, the study suggests that the low-cost approach could enhance quality of life, reduce distress and somatic symptoms, and improve physical functioning for patients, according to the researchers.
“COPD is an increasingly important public health problem. It’s a debilitating and distressing illness,” said Scott Palmer, M.D., M.H.S., an associate professor of pulmonary medicine at Duke University and medical director of the project.
“Our work has established an innovative and important intervention that could improve patient quality of life. Although it has not translated into improved survival rates, this approach is worthy of further investigation.”
“Patients with COPD do not often seek mental health services,” added James Blumenthal, Ph.D., the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke. “Given the other issues patients face with this illness, they may not feel as though mental health treatment is a priority.”
Telephone coaching offers privacy and minimal inconvenience, he continued.
“This could be a valuable treatment for patients with other chronic conditions in which traditional mental health services are not easily accessible, or when patients are reluctant to seek such services,” he concluded.
The National Institutes of Health provided grant support for the study, which was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Source: Duke University