Congestive heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. It is caused when our heart pumps more weakly than it should. Although the name sounds like the heart fails, it does not actually stop. In reality, the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet our body’s demands. This results in the hospitalization of more than 500,000 people each year. Other heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease, can cause heart failure, as well as other conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Family Caregiver Tips for Heart Failure
While there is no cure for heart failure, the disease can be treated with lifestyle changes and certain medications. These can help prolong your life. Here are seven ways a caregiver can take care of a loved one with heart failure:
- Stay connected. It’s vital for heart failure patients to maintain regular appointments with their doctor regardless of how well they think the condition is under control.
- Mind the medication. It’s important your loved one knows the names, doses and side effects of all his or her medications. Often, a combination of medications is key to managing the condition.
- Watch the weight. For heart failure patients, weight monitoring is essential as it reflects overall fluid volume in the body. When people with heart failure retain fluid it becomes a challenge for their weakened hearts.
- Promote a healthy diet. One of the most important steps for managing heart failure is controlling sodium intake. Encourage a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, dried beans and whole-grain bread, which are naturally low in sodium.
- Exercise together. Regular aerobic exercise is important. It improves the efficiency of muscles and increases blood flow to arms and legs. Starting slowly and getting plenty of rest to prevent exhaustion also are important.
- Manage symptoms. Shortness of breath is a heart failure patient’s most common complaint, but there is help. Your loved one should avoid extreme temperatures, use pillows to prop him or herself up at night and avoid strenuous household chores.
- Offer support. People living with heart failure commonly become worried or depressed, and this just worsens things. Just knowing someone is there can lessen the blow and keep sad feelings away. Also, you can encourage your loved one to enroll in a cardiac rehabilitation program, which promotes both physical and mental wellness.
Food Preparation for a Loved One with Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a condition that requires a lot of daily management. As a result, it impacts not only the patient, but also family and friends. But you or a family caregiver can help a loved one with heart failure by making subtle changes to his or her diet. Most likely, your loved one has been advised to reduce the salt in his or her diet.
However, salt, or sodium, is a key flavor enhancer, and food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Don’t fret, help is on the way. The easiest answer is to remove the main sources of salt, add new flavors in its place and eliminate commercially prepared foods. According to Transition, here are some tips to help a loved one with heart failure eat right.
- Remove the main sources of salt (these two steps reduce salt intake by 30 percent).
- Take the saltshaker off the table.
- Remove the salt supply from the kitchen.
- Experiment by adding flavor with herbs and spices.
- At the table: non-salt dried herb blends, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, freshly ground pepper, toasted sesame oil.
- In cooking: fresh or dried savory herbs (basil, thyme, sage), exotic spices (curry, ginger, chipotle pepper), citrus juice and grated citrus rind.*Do not provide a commercial "salt substitute" without the doctor's permission
- Eliminate commercially prepared foods.
- Cooking in bulk: Roast a whole chicken, pork roast or meatloaf. Leave the leftovers for sandwiches. Save the bones and bits for a savory soup base.
- Cooking slowly: A slow cooker allows flavors to develop in stews and casseroles. Put the ingredients together when it's convenient. Use fresh, frozen or low-sodium foods.
- Creating toppings: Sauteed mushrooms, browned onions, homemade pesto or chutney. Freeze in small portions that are easy to grab and warm at mealtime.
- Making mixes: Make your own mixes for pancakes, cornbread and muffins with low-sodium baking powder.
Heart Failure Resources on CareTogether.com
Heart failure has the highest readmission rate of all chronic diseases. Many of these costly and stressful return trips to the hospital can be preventable by learning how to manage the condition and taking a few simple steps to stay healthy. Additionally, having a support team of loved ones who are informed about the condition and involved in the caregiving plays a huge role in avoiding rehospitalizations.
We have added the heart failure education material to CareTogether’s condition-specific resources. From “Heart Failure Definition and Warning Signs” to a weight calendar, these resources will help you learn about the condition and help your loved one understand their condition so they can improve their quality of life, stay healthy, and avoid unexpected trips to the hospital.
Heart Failure Definition and Warning Signs:
Answers to What is it? What causes it? What are the symptoms? What are the warning signs of a flare-up? It also lists signs to monitor of a worsening condition.
About Heart Failure Medication
Explains what your medicines do, what kinds of medicines are used for heart failure, and more.
Heart Failure Weight Calendar
One of the best ways to improve recovery from heart failure is to monitor weight. It is very important for heart failure patients to weigh themselves at the same time every day and record their weight. This calendar lets you write in the date, time, and notes (“Ate Chinese food last night”). It’s a great tool to bring to doctor appointments.
Heart Failure Wellness and Nutrition
Overview of ways to stay healthy, benefits of exercise, how to plan your exercise, signs of over-exertion. This document also includes tips on eating low-salt food and a list of foods to consider and avoid. The last page lists important ways to take care of yourself.
Emotions and Your Heart
Heart failure can bring about many different feelings. Sadness, fear, and anger are natural and common responses. This resource helps you understand and cope with these feelings.
Heart Failure Web Resources
Lists more than a dozen websites that offer even more great information about heart failure.
To sign up for a completely free and secure CareTogether page for your loved one and family, visit www.caretogether.com to get started!
Heart Failure Care
Readmissions are stressful for patients and their families, and they’re costly to hospitals. Many of these return trips to the hospital can be prevented by the use of nurse-led care-coordination programs geared toward educating heart-failure patients and empowering them to self-manage their condition.
BrightStar Clinical Pathways for Heart Failure uses clinically proven methods to educate people with heart failure and their families on the key aspects of the condition and how to monitor symptoms, adhere to a plan of care, take their medication, improve wellness, and stay healthy. Learn more about heart failure care program.