My Loved One Needs Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Your loved has been hospitalized and their provider has ordered pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab); or maybe you're just curious about it.

Helpful Highlights

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) is a valuable, robust program for improving respiratory health for those with chronic lung conditions.

  • Phases 1 and 2 are covered by insurance and programs vary in format and length, though are usually 8 to 12 weeks (around 36 sessions).

  • The best way to help your loved one is by ensuring that they get to all of their scheduled rehab sessions.

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Pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab) can help your loved one get as close as possible to their life before the onset of their illness. In addition to education, supervision, tips, and advice, your loved one will experience a strong sense of community that is equally as important.

What it is

Pulmonary rehab is a comprehensive program for improving the respiratory health and overall well-being of individuals with chronic respiratory conditions, particularly those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

This structured and multidisciplinary approach integrates exercise training, education, and support to enhance the functional capacity and quality of life for your loved one.

The program typically involves a combination of aerobic exercises, strength training, and breathing exercises tailored to your loved one's specific needs and abilities. Additionally, education - provided to both you and your loved one - on managing symptoms, proper nutrition, and psychosocial support are integral components of pulmonary rehab.

By addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of respiratory conditions, pulmonary rehab aims to optimize lung function, reduce symptoms, and empower your loved one to lead a healthier and more active life despite their chronic respiratory challenges.

How and where it happens

Pulmonary rehab occurs in three phases.

  • Phase 1 is inpatient rehab and takes place while your loved one is still in the hospital.

  • Phase 2 is outpatient rehab and takes place for several weeks following hospital discharge at an outpatient facility.

  • Phase 3 is maintenance rehab and is an optional, voluntary program that supports ongoing lung health and takes place at an ambulatory rehab facility or other care center, online, and sometimes at home.

For more detailed information on the phases of pulmonary rehab, see our associated Guides: Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Phase 1; Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Phase 2; and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Phase 3.

Who's involved

As mentioned, pulmonary rehab is a multidisciplinary approach, so there will be an overseeing physician, as well as nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, exercise specialists, and dietitians involved. Together, these health professionals create a personal program to meet your loved one's specific needs.

Throughout all phases of the program, consider the rehab staff as your loved one's personal trainers and educators. They will empower your loved one with the knowledge, purpose, and desire to regain their health, along with their overall fitness, within safe levels. They will also share valuable advice with you and your loved one on achieving goals such as weight loss, smoking cessation, stress management, lower blood pressure, healthy eating, and more.

Elements included in pulmonary rehab

  • Assessment & Individualized Planning

  • Education

  • Exercise

  • Breathing & Oxygenation

  • Psychosocial Support

  • Nutritional Counseling

  • Behavioral Change Strategies

  • Monitoring & Follow-up

  • Transition to Maintenance

For more detailed information on each of the elements within pulmonary rehab, see our associated Guide: Pulmonary Rehab, How it Works.

What you can do to help

Supporting a loved one in pulmonary rehab involves various forms of encouragement and practical assistance.

  1. Try to be present for the information and education delivered in Phase 1, Inpatient Rehab (while your loved one is still in the hospital).

  2. Confirm where Phase 2, Outpatient Rehab will occur and when it will start.

  3. Put all scheduled pulmonary rehab sessions on your calendar and know ahead of time what days and times they occur.

  4. Ensure that your loved one gets to all of their sessions and completes the program (i.e., make transportation a priority). If you like, attending sessions with them can provide emotional support and motivation, as well as boost your learning.

  5. Work with your loved one to regularly incorporate what they're learning at rehab at home. Encourage this by doing activities together, reinforce positive behavior by celebrating milestones achieved during rehab, and assist with recommended lifestyle changes.

  6. Encourage your loved one to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in rehab. Conversations about their experiences during rehab can help you better understand their challenges, achievements, and sense of community there.

  7. If the means are available, encourage your loved one to continue their work by participating in Phase 3, Maintenance Rehab.

To find out if your loved one would benefit from a pulmonary rehab program, contact their primary care provider or pulmonologist, or call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872). The Lung HelpLine is staffed by experienced registered nurses and respiratory therapists who can help you and your loved one learn more about pulmonary rehab, as well as find programs near you.

Your loved one may be eligible for a pulmonary rehab program if they have one of the following conditions:

  • Asthma

  • Bronchiectasis

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Emphysema

  • Lung transplant

  • Neuromuscular disease

  • Occupational or environmental lung disease

  • Post-thoracic surgery

  • Pulmonary fibrosis

  • Pulmonary hypertension

  • Respiratory failure

  • Sarcoidosis


American Lung Association - Pulmonary Rehabilitation

American Lung Association - How Pulmonary Rehab Helps You Breathe

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Mayo Clinic

NIH National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute

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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