Heart conditions are among the most serious — and common — health challenges facing the elderly.
As the National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains, people age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, experience a stroke, or develop coronary heart disease and heart failure. In fact, heart failure is one of the most common reasons that people aged 65 or older go to the hospital, according to data from the American Heart Association.
What’s more, heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions are also a “major cause of disability” in the elderly, according to the NIA, “limiting the activity and eroding the quality of life of millions of older people.”
If your senior loved one is living with a heart condition, what can you do to help them stay safe and healthy — while elevating their quality of life? Here are five important steps caregivers can take to support their senior loved ones while looking out for their heart health:
Know When to Get Help
As a family caregiver, you are often the “first line of defense” if your loved one gets sick or has an accident. If your older loved one is managing a heart condition, it’s important to know the warning signs of a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, and the correct actions to take should an emergency arise. You can find some important guidelines on recognizing and responding to severe cardiovascular events on heart.org.
Even before something goes wrong, it’s important to recognize some of the underlying warning signs of a heart condition. The NIA encourages seniors and their caregivers to talk to a doctor if they notice symptoms such as:
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, especially during physical activity
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or confusion
- Cold sweats
- Nausea or vomiting
- Constant fatigue
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, or neck
- Problems doing normal daily activities, exercising, or being physically active
As a family caregiver, you may also be the one responsible for getting in touch with your loved one’s care network. Be sure to have a list of contact information for your loved one’s doctors, local emergency resources, and nearby family and friends ready to go in case you need to respond to an urgent situation.
And even when things are normal, be sure to help your loved one stay connected with their doctors. Help them schedule and attend their regular appointments and checkups, so they can discuss any concerns they have with an experienced medical professional and get the help they need — before something goes wrong.
Help Seniors Manage Their Medications
Managing medications is a crucial daily chore for millions of seniors around the country, and is a particularly important matter for older adults living with a chronic heart condition.
As a family caregiver, one of the most important steps you can take to help your older loved one stay healthy is to help them keep on top of their medications. This includes taking an inventory and keeping track of all of the medicines they’re currently taking, including over-the-counter supplements and remedies.
Be ready to present this list to your loved one’s doctor during appointments, and keep an eye out for potential side effects and adverse interactions from both prescriptions and OTC medications, which can pose a serious health risk to seniors in their own right.
On a day-to-day basis, look for ways to help your loved one remember to take their medications on time, and at the proper dosage. This might include offering verbal reminders; setting up a physical medication calendar; setting up electronic reminders on their phone or alarm clock; using a pill organizer; or working with a professional caregiver to help make sure your family member sticks to their medicine schedule, even when you can’t be there to help in person.
Support the Senior In Their Fitness, Exercise, and Lifestyle Goals
Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the best ways to protect your heart health over time — but it’s important for your loved one to find a fitness regimen that matches their ability levels and health goals.
Encourage your loved one to work with a healthcare specialist to find and practice activities that will work for them. The NIA encourages seniors to start by doing the activities they enjoy — such as “brisk walking, dancing, bowling, bicycling, or gardening.” Whatever it takes to “avoid spending hours every day sitting.”
As your loved one gets more active, your role as a caregiver is to give them the support and assistance they need, including lending a helping hand during walks; offering regular reminders to get up and get active; and being ready to get help in case of an accident or overexertion.
Meanwhile, there are lots of ways to help encourage your loved one to live a healthier lifestyle in support of their goals. For your loved one, the journey to a healthier heart may also include steps like getting the hydration they need; getting lots of rest each night; and taking steps to cut down on unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking alcohol to excess.
Help Your Elderly Loved One Maintain the Right Diet
As the old saying goes: “You are what you eat.” Helping seniors to set a diet that suits their unique nutritional needs is an important step on the road to better overall health.
For older adults with heart conditions, a healthy diet may require a limit on their salt intake. Some seniors may also be asked by their doctor to cut down on red meat, or to increase their daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains. As a family caregiver, you can support your loved one by helping out with grocery shopping, meal preparation, and service. Introduce your loved one to healthy and nutritious foods; watch out for sodium on prepared or prepackaged foods; and serve meals in an accessible and “senior-friendly” way. The more you can take the guesswork and uncertainty out of eating balanced, nutritious meals, the better off your senior loved one will be.
And don’t forget to sit down and eat together, as often as possible! Studies have shown that seniors who enjoy meals alongside a family member or caregiver make healthier choices, eat more, and get more fulfillment out of the entire experience.
Find Ways to Manage Stress, Anger, and Anxiety
Stress, depression, and anxiety can put a strain on your health and well-being, and may actually exacerbate heart problems over time.
If your loved one is facing chronic stress or anxiety, it may be time to make some changes. As a family caregiver, you can help your loved one learn breathing exercises and other ways to respond in stressful situations. There are also lots of physical activities that have been proven to help with stress management over time, including yoga, tai chi, meditation, and walking. If your loved one has difficulty coping, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help or guidance.
Study after study has shown that being social comes with enormous health benefits for older adults. Spending time with friends, family, or a trusted care professional can help counteract the impacts of isolation and social withdrawal, and may help your loved one to experience less stress, higher levels of happiness and personal satisfaction, and an improved quality of life overall.
Companions for Seniors Is Here for You
When an older adult is dealing with cardiovascular disease, heart failure, or another chronic health condition, it’s important to get them the support and assistance that can empower them to live a more full, complete, and independent life.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors lead an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of home by connecting them with their community and nurturing meaningful relationships.
To do this, we take care to make things easier for seniors and family caregivers, at every step of the way. We offer a wide variety of full- and part-time services, including:
- Providing assistance and support with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as sitting, standing, and walking around the house
- Helping with bathing, grooming, using the restroom, and other tasks
- Offering driving services for doctor’s appointments, errands, and social events
- Assisting with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and other important household chores
- Providing medication and exercise reminders
- Offering friendly companionship and social connection
We can provide a free in-home assessment for your loved one, and help develop a unique and personalized care plan specifically suited to meet their needs. As the senior’s needs change over our time, so can our plan of care. In most cases we can be up and running in just two days, sparing you from the laborious application process and paperwork attached to assisted living facilities.
We are serious about keeping our clients and staff healthy, and are going above and beyond current public health recommendations to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. You can read more about the actions we’re taking here and here.
Curious about what sets Companions for Seniors apart? Want to talk over any aspect of home care for seniors living with chronic heart conditions? We’d love to keep the conversation going and help point you in the right direction. Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today to get started!