Living at Home With Heart Disease

February is American Heart Month.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States—but according to the National Institutes of Health, heart disease is also one of the most preventable conditions. With the aging of our population, our healthcare system is now putting increased emphasis on controllable risk factors such as inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity and smoking. A study that recently appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that the risk of heart disease decreases more with each positive lifestyle change an older adult makes.

But age is one of the risk factors for heart disease that we can’t control. For many seniors who are living with heart disease today, effective management of the condition is often a team effort that includes the patient, healthcare provider and family caregivers. Most people with heart disease prefer to remain in the comfort of their own home rather than move to a nursing home or other care community. Families want to honor their loved one's choice—but they worry about whether their loved one is safe living independently.

Family members also should consider the demands of their caregiving tasks. Studies show that caregiving can be hard on the health of caregivers—and that includes heart health. So for the good of the person with heart disease and family caregivers alike, it’s important to take advantage of available support services. For many families, this includes the help of in-home care professionals.

In-home caregivers assist clients with a heart-healthy lifestyle, including:

Medication management. Most heart patients take medications—often, a number of medications, for their heart condition and other health problems. For these drugs to be effective, they must be taken as prescribed. But medication compliance can be a challenge. A professional caregiver can help your loved one manage medications, pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy, and be alert for any side-effects or interactions.

Nutrition support. Your loved one’s physician will most likely prescribe a special diet personalized for your loved one’s condition. Working with instructions from the physician, a professional home care agency can help plan a heart-healthy diet that meets low-sodium, low-cholesterol and other requirements. The caregiver can go to the grocery store, and prepare nutritious and appetizing meals to tempt your loved one’s appetite.

Physical activity. The old days when bed rest was the rule are over. We now know that inactivity is bad for our hearts. On the other hand, overexertion can be dangerous for those who have experienced a heart attack or who are living with congestive heart disease. That’s why you might hear that the physician has “prescribed” a specific exercise regimen that is right for your loved one’s specific needs. In-home caregivers can help with exercises and provide watchful, non-intrusive supervision to give your loved one greater confidence.

Hygiene and home safety. Low energy, shortness of breath, and fatigue can make household tasks and personal care a challenge. The doctor may recommend against more strenuous tasks, such as raking or lifting. In-home caregivers can clean the house, do laundry, and provide other home support tasks. They also help with personal care such as bathing, dressing, and grooming. Feeling well-groomed, in clean surroundings, provides a real mood boost, and reduces stress for patient and family caregivers alike.

Avoiding and treating depression. Experts are learning more about the connection between heart disease and depression. Heart patients may be caught in a cycle: depression decreases their motivation to comply with treatment—which leads to a decline in their health…which in turn increases depression. The doctor may prescribe anti-depressant medications. And did you know that spending time with others is one of the best mood boosts? Professional caregivers provide companionship and the encouragement to be more active and socially connected. Does your loved one like board games? Sports programs? Music? Walking the family pet? The caregiver can encourage participation in stimulating activities that lift the spirit.

Peace of mind for caregivers. When a loved one is recovering from a heart attack or dealing with chronic heart disease, it sometimes seems as if medical appointments fill every day of the calendar! And of course, the doctor’s hours and family caregivers’ working hours are usually the same. Other family and friends may offer to help—but as one daughter says, “I felt like I had used up all my favors, and hesitated to ask.” Using professional in-home care allows family to concentrate on their other responsibilities, knowing their loved one is in good hands. The caregiver can help keep track of your loved one’s schedule and provide transportation to the doctor’s office, to cardiac rehabilitation sessions, smoking cessation classes, and any other healthcare appointments.

Home care can be provided for several hours a week, up to full time, depending on your loved one’s needs and your schedule. The goal is to allow the patient the greatest independence possible without compromising the most effective heart wellness routine.

To Find More Information

Find American Heart Month resources on the websites of the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.  

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2015.