People diagnosed with heart failure may need to make changes and learn to rely on a caregiver to help with daily tasks. This might involve emotional support and being a good listener, or it may also require more hands-on planning, such as managing medications, monitoring symptoms and vital signs, and encouraging healthy eating and exercise.
No matter which type of heart failure your loved one is experiencing, tips for care are similar:
- Advocate and listen: If you’re helping to care for someone with heart failure, attend doctor appointments and be involved in discussions about treatment.
- Promote exercise and physical activity: Talk with your loved one’s doctor about a recommended amount and type of exercise. Walking is one of the safest ways to get physical activity. For some people, supervised rehabilitation programs are an option.
- Understand how to manage medications: Take steps to learn about each prescribed drug. Develop a record-keeping system using a checklist to keep track of the medication, doses and time administered. You may also want to keep a journal that includes questions, any changes made to medications, and potential side effects. Use a smartphone app, such as the AHA My Cardiac Coach (available at the Apple App Store and Google Play).
- Know how to monitor symptoms: You may need to assist your loved one with monitoring symptoms such as leg swelling, shortness of breath, and weight gain, blood pressure and heart rate. Ask the physician about purchasing a blood pressure and heart-rate monitor.
- Find a support group: Depending on where you live, you and your loved one can connect with people online or in real life. The American Heart Association offers a support network.
- Learn about nutrition: Diet can make a big difference in managing heart failure. Talk to a doctor, who may refer you to a dietitian to design heart-healthy meal plans.
- Discuss mental and emotional needs: Emotional support is critical when caring for someone with heart failure. You can promote emotional well-being by encouraging loved ones to reach out to friends and family, support groups or social networks. If symptoms don’t improve or worsen, consider counseling.
Making lifestyle changes to manage symptoms of heart failure takes work, so when you notice your loved one is doing a good job following treatment plans, acknowledge the effort. And make sure you get support: Heart failure is often a chronic condition, so working with physicians and connecting with other caregivers, friends and family will make the caregiver job easier and improve heart failure outcomes.
What is heart failure?
Heart failure is a confusing term. When you have heart failure, it doesn’t mean the heart has stopped beating; rather it reflects the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as a healthy one. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have defined heart failure types and stages of heart failure. Traditional diagnostics include an examination, documenting a medical history, and testing.
Heart failure is more common in people 65 and older due to normal aging processes. Although heart failure is more common in men, both men and women can develop heart failure. African Americans have higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and are therefore more likely to develop heart failure, have earlier symptoms, and die from the condition than any other group.