Energy Conservation Techniques for Heart and Lung Disease

Like LED lightbulbs, humans can also use energy more efficiently and still power their purpose - even last longer.

Helpful Highlights

  • Energy conservation techniques consider the time it takes to complete a task, the physical demands of that task, your loved one's limitations, and organization and prioritization.

  • Energy conservation techniques are useful for bathing, toileting and hygiene, dressing and undressing, meal prep and eating, daily chores, and more.

  • Coupled with being conscientious about the amount and rate of movement, many physical aides can also assist with energy conservation and task accomplishment.

  • Healthline offers an excellent online tool for developing a daily routine to conserve energy.

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Energy-saving techniques can help your loved one use their energy wisely to reduce tiredness and maintain their independence. Conserving energy allows them to complete the tasks they want to complete throughout the day. The more your loved one can do for themselves, the more self-esteem and less depression they will have, reducing your worries and workload.

The 4 P's of energy conservation

Physical and occupational therapists will use the "4 P's" approach when teaching people about energy conservation.

Prioritize. Decide what needs to be done today and what can wait for another time. Limit major undertakings to just one per day (e.g., laundry, vacuuming, grocery shopping, gardening).

Plan. Plan ahead to avoid extra effort or extra trips. Gather everything needed before starting an activity, chore, or personal care need.

Pace. Commit to a slow and steady pace with smooth movements, never rushing.

Position. Think about body position while completing tasks throughout the day. Bending and reaching cause fatigue and shortness of breath. Use adaptive equipment whenever possible to accomplish tasks.

Energy conservation basics

  • Allow for rest periods throughout the day.

  • Don't wait until they're exhausted to rest.

  • Alternate rest periods with activities to get more done.

  • Use slow and smooth movements. Rushing increases fatigue and discomfort.

  • Avoid activities that require short, quick bursts of energy.

  • Avoid activities when it's too hot, too cold, or immediately after a meal.

  • If there's a particular activity they want to do on a given day, they should plan ahead and schedule it for a time they usually feel at their best.

Energy conservation techniques

  • Pull heavy objects rather than push them.

  • Put a tall stool in the kitchen and near the washer/dryer so that they can sit while preparing food, cleaning up, or folding laundry.

  • When standing while working, ensure they are working at waist height and do not have to bend or reach too far (such as placing items most used in the kitchen on counters or shelves at waist level).

  • Plan ahead to reduce the number of trips up and down stairs.

What can help your loved one do?

Of course you can do a lot of things to support your loved one yourself, though ideally through your actions you impart to them target health behaviors that they can do on their own to maintain their strength and independence.

MEALS

  • Do the cleaning, chopping, and packing together in advance.

  • Prepare sandwiches and finger foods that can be ready in the refrigerator for light meals and snacks.

  • Bigger meals can be prepared, cooked, plated, and covered - ready to be warmed up.

  • Do not maintain food in heavy baking dishes or large pots/pans.

  • Use a tall stool in the kitchen during meal prep.

DRESSING/UNDRESSING

  • Lay out clothes before bathing, or lay out clothes at night for the morning.

  • Adapt or modify the home environment, especially the bathroom and bedroom (such as with grab bars and convenient seating).

  • Reorganize closets and shelves so your loved one does not have to reach above shoulders or below the waist (below knees at the lowest).

  • Select clothing that stretches and is easy to get on and off.

  • Implement adaptive dressing aides.

TOILETING AND HYGIENE

  • Install grab bars, a shower chair, and perhaps even an elevated toilet seat.

  • Ensure all items needed for bathing and personal hygiene are in one location and easy to reach (bathing items, towel, and robe; toothbrush and toothpaste; washcloth and soap; hair brush, shaving items, etc.).

  • Whenever possible, have your loved one sit to perform hygiene.

  • Consider electric toothbrushes and shavers, which decrease workload.

SUPPORT AND HELP

Look for community resources like meal delivery services, shopping services, community transportation, low-impact group activities, and more.

Divide and conquer task lists with family, friends, and neighbors. Create social gatherings around jobs that need to be done (summer pitch-ins, holiday decorating). This will also help prevent your isolation and exhaustion as a caregiver.

Go to appointments and talk directly with your loved one's primary care provider and pulmonologist. Communicate subtle changes in activity level, sleep, appetite, toileting, and mentation (how they think and enegage). Also, communicate changes in general demeanor (such as irritability) and physical well-being (experiencing lightheadedness or muscle cramping).

Discuss with their provider the benefits of home health care. Occupational Therapy can help with energy conservation techniques and adaptation recommendations. Physical Therapy can help with increasing strength and endurance, as well as improving balance. Speech therapy can help strengthen throat and chest muscles and improve lung capacity.

CONSIDER

  • Services and benefits covered by your loved one's health plan

  • Services available through private pay (hired personal care and homemaking)

  • Check into volunteer organizations for yard work and handyman jobs (such as church groups and high schools)

Reduce anxiety, it burns energy

Remind your loved one that it’s okay to be short of breath. Sometimes, they may need encouragement to accept their current situation and make adjustments. Focus on controlling breathing and taking slow, deep breaths - especially when they start feeling anxious (as anxiety begets more shortness of breath, which causes more anxiety). Remind them that breathing gets easier as anxiety improves. You may want to breathe with them to demonstrate the breaths and help them feel at ease.

Move slowly during tasks that take a lot of effort and build in short rest periods. Assure your loved one that you are willing to wait for them to do things, even when it would take you half the time to just do it yourself. This assurance increases their feelings of independence and control, which is very important to you both. Avoid unnecessary tasks.  Help them identify where they can cut some activities so they have more energy for the ones they enjoy most.

Plan activities so they can rest before and after them, as needed, especially while away from home. Plan for extended periods of rest at least once a day, though encourage them not to nap during that time, as it affects nightly sleep. They can rest without napping by having something easy to do such as reading, puzzles, or folding clothes. If their feet or ankles are swollen, put their feet up during rest.

Example adaptive items

A pillow wedge or electric bed to elevate their head and chest during sleep to ease breathing.

Pillow Wedge

Reacher tools can be very helpful in retrieving (non-heavy) items from high or low places and come in a variety of grabbers.

Reacher Tool

Also, consider a long shoehorn to assist with donning and doffing shoes, alleviating the need to bend below knee level.

Long Shoe Horn

A tall stool for the kicthen and laundry area makes meal prep, clean up, and folding laundry less strenuous.

Tall Stool for Kitchen and Laundry

RESOURCES

American Heart Association (AHA)

American Lung Association (ALA)

CDC – COPD

CDC - Heart Failure

COPD.com

Healthline

Heartfailurematters.org

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI)

UCSF Health - Tips for Conserving Your Energy

Wingardh, A.S.L., Goransson, C., Larsson, S., Slinde, F., & Vanfleteren, L.E.G.W. (2020). Effectiveness of energy conservation techniques in patients with COPD. Respiration, 99(5), 409-416. DOI

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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