How can I keep Mom from being so isolated due to her health conditions?

2 answers | Last updated: Jun 15, 2010
Ptcruzr asked...

My mom is 86 and is carbon dioxide retentive. She takes oxygen with a bipap at night and naptime. However, during the rest of the day she cannot breathe and as a result does very little. It takes her about 20 minutes to make preparations to take a this I mean to get undressed. She cannot wash her hair without becoming winded. She is now choosing not to go anywhere because if she goes she cannot breathe, then wets her pants and really does not enjoy herself. She is content to sit and play games on her computer all day long and this gives her something to do. But I am wondering if there is any way to help her breathing the rest of the time or if we are dealing with a depression (but I'm not sure that is true as seeing her grandchildren brings her great joy and she went away for Thanksgiving and enjoyed it) Mostly, I guess I am concerned about the breathing and the possibility that isolating herself from activities may very well lead to a deeper depression than that already a part of getting older. I go to her pulmonologist in 2 weeks. She has refused to go prior to that so I want to be ready when I go to ask the correct questions. Thanks

Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

It sounds like your mom has done an amazing job adapting to the isolation and limitations of her medical condition. It is always best to stay as active, both mentally and physically, as one can. In her case, it sounds like she is not able to do even the most simple tasks without becoming short of breath, so she is unable to be physically active. I assume her physician is aware of her limitations and is doing his or her best to open the airways. I would suggest, however, you clearly outline your mother's physical struggles with the pulmunologist, just to be sure he or she has a full picture, and directly ask if there is anything more that can be done.

One of the cardinal symptoms of depression is a loss of the ability to experience joy. Your mom's capacity to enjoy some limited travel and time with her grandchildren, therefore, suggests she is not likely depressed. Another common symptom of depression is a loss of motivation, and your mom's drive to continue to play computer games also suggests she is not likely depressed. Given the severity of her lung disease, however, she is living with a significant amount of stress. In addition, many of the medications used to treat pulmonary disease, can have side effects that cause mood or anxiety problems. I would suggest she be evaluated by a psychiatrist to see if there might be a mental health intervention that either involves talk therapy or medication, that might be helpful for her. A psychiatrist could also look over her pulmonary medications and perhaps have a discussion with her pulmunologist, to see if she is having emotional side effects from the medications she is already taking. I would suggest asking the pulmunologist for the name of a good psychiatrist, he or she would trust, if you don't already know one you would want to use.

Community Answers

Ptcruzr answered...

Thanks...I'm not real sure that she would be willing to see a psychiatrist. But as you indicate there are not signs of depression. She is on an anti depressant and I'm wondering if maybe they are not helping any more. I will be talking with the pulmonologist about the meds to insure that there is nothing further that can be done.
One other thing that keeps being suggested to her is that she try to exercise minimally each day...but I'm thinking that she can't. So I'm not pushing that issue. My sister and I are both afraid that if she continues to weaken she will have to go to a nursing home and there she would be unable to have her only joy...the computer we'll just try to address the breathing at this point and keep her at home as long as possible. Mom weighs under 100 lbs but had TB when younger and is missing part of a lung and this coupled with the CO2 retention and some congestive heart failure has most probably added to her distress. Thanks so much for your input. Mom gets her own breakfast and lunch every day so is getting some exercise and plays computer for entertainment. Just wish we could get the old mom back.....hmmmmm guess we can't.
Any ideas where I could find out more information on CO2 retention? Is it similar to COPD? Is there some progression?
Thanks so much for answering.