Home Care Supports Heart Health
February is 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. The risk of heart disease increases as we grow older. And 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.
For Americans who are living with heart disease today, effective management of the condition is often a team effort that includes 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.
And caregivers should also be mindful of their own health. Caregiving can be stressful and physically challenging. As we saw in the June 2008 issue of Caring Right at Home, a study from Columbia University showed that family caregivers may themselves be at higher risk for heart disease. So it’s important to take advantage of available support services, including the help of in-home care professionals.
In-home care helps answer some of the top questions of family caregivers:
Q: “Is Mom remembering her medications?”
Most heart patients take medications. For these drugs to be effective, they must be taken as prescribed. But medication compliance can be a challenge. A professional in-home caregiver can help your loved one manage medications, pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy, and be alert for any side-effects or interactions.
Q: “Is Dad following the diet his cardiologist recommends?”
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.
Q: “What about exercise? Is it safe for heart patients? How can I encourage my loved one to be more active?”
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 chronic 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. The in-home caregiver can help with exercises and provide watchful, non-intrusive supervision to give your loved one greater confidence.
Q: “Can my folks keep up with home maintenance and personal care?”
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 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.
Q: “My loved one is experiencing depression. I wish I could spend more time with him! Should he be alone?”
Don’t ignore the relationship between heart disease and depression. Heart patients may be caught in a cycle: depression decreases motivation to comply with treatment…which leads to a decline in health…which in turn increases depression. The in-home caregiver can help with medication and other treatments. And the caregiver also provides 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.
Q: “How can I balance my work and family responsibilities, while making sure my parent gets to healthcare appointments? My work hours are the same as the cardiologist’s!”
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! 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.” The assistance of a professional in-home caregiver 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.
In-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.
Learn More About Heart Health
The American Heart Association website is a great source of information on heart health and managing heart disease.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, offers a wide array of consumer information on heart disease prevention and treatment.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.