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Ohio State study aims to find best ways to help Ohioans with lung disease

Ohio is one of the leaders in the United States in a category that no state wants to be in front: the death rate from one of the most common forms of lung disease.

And unlike cancer and heart disease, the rate of death for this lung disease is actually still increasing.

That's one reason behind a new $3.6 million, federally funded research project at Ohio State University and Duke University to find more effective ways to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

COPD, an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is a disease that restricts air flow to the lungs, making normal breathing difficult. It is the fourth-leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Ohio ranks 8th among the states in the COPD death rate among women over age 25, and 13th in men over 25.

The statistics are sobering, because the disease can't be cured, but only managed, said Charles Emery, a professor of psychology at Ohio State, who is leading the new study here.

"Physical activity can help people with COPD, but you have to continue doing it, which is very difficult because of the nature of the disease," Emery said.

"People with COPD have frequent acute upper respiratory infections, and they are susceptible to the flu, which slows people down and leads them to drop exercise and other activities that can help them manage the disease."

Rehabilitation programs can help, but many Ohioans don't live close to rehab facilities, or find it difficult to leave their homes because of the physical toll of the disease.

"So with this new study we are reaching out to people across the state in their homes through a telephone intervention," Emery said.

The five-year study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will involve weekly phone calls to participants for 14 weeks. The study will include 300 people recruited by Ohio State, and another 300 by Duke University in North Carolina.

A psychologist or other trained researcher will talk to COPD study participants and their caregivers for about 15 to 45 minutes each week. Half will receive coping skills training, and half will receive a weekly phone call with education about lung disease.

The study will evaluate the effects of the phone contacts on physical activity, social functioning, and quality of life.

"Things we take for granted, like walking to the sidewalk to pick up a newspaper, or taking a shower, often require a lot more time for someone with COPD. In turn, they have less time for other activities, which can be a source of depression," Emery said. "But we know there are things that patients can do to reduce depressive symptoms and we will discuss these in the phone calls."

Researchers want to see how learning coping strategies will affect short-term and long-term health of the patients in the study.

Participants will complete assessments of physical functioning, health status, social support, and emotional functioning before and after the 14-week study. Participants will then complete another assessment after 6 months, and then every year for the remainder of the study. The researchers will examine how the intervention affects health care costs and physician and hospital visits, among other things.

The patients and their caregivers will have to come to Ohio State twice, at the beginning and end of the study, to be assessed in person, Emery said.

While patients will never be free from COPD, Emery said this study aims to find ways to help people with COPD, and their caregivers, manage the disease successfully.

"Our goal is to improve patient functioning, and thereby improve not only well-being in the patient, but in the caregiver, as well," Emery said.

Contact: Charles Emery, (614) 688-3061.
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457