People who are diagnosed with systolic heart failure often have to make some significant changes in their lives. They may also need to learn to rely on a caretaker to help with daily tasks.
If you’re a spouse, partner, family member, or friend caring for someone with heart failure, you may have questions about how you can best provide support.
Providing care for someone with heart failure may involve emotional support and being a good listener. It may also require more hands-on practical planning, such as managing medications, monitoring symptoms and vital signs, and encouraging healthy eating and exercise.
There are two different types of congestive heart failure — systolic (problem with how the heart squeezes) or diastolic (problem with how the heart relaxes). No matter which type of heart failure your loved one is experiencing, the tips for helping with their care are largely the same.
If you’re helping to care for someone with heart failure, you can ask to attend doctors’ appointments and to be included in discussions about treatment. Your loved one’s doctor may provide a lot of information during appointments. You can assist by being there to listen and take notes, so that the information is available later.
You can also help advocate for your loved one and for yourself. Treatment decisions affect your loved one’s health as well as your caregiving role. If you feel that an issue or symptom isn’t being addressed, talk about it. Being involved in conversations about symptom management may make a big difference in the long run.
Depending on your loved one’s symptoms and condition, their doctor may have recommended that they get more physical activity to help manage heart failure. You’re in the unique position of being able to support your loved one to get the exercise they need.
Talk with your loved one’s doctor about the amount and type of exercise they recommend. Walking is often one of the safest ways to get physical activity. For some people, supervised rehabilitation programs are an option.
If you help your loved one manage their medications, take steps to learn about each drug and how it’s taken. You can ask your loved one’s healthcare team and pharmacist, or you can read through the drug information pamphlets provided.
It’s also a good idea to come up with a record-keeping system that both you and your loved one understand. Consider 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 the medications, or side effects. Using a smartphone app, such as My Cardiac Coach from the American Heart Association (AHA), is another option.
You may need to assist your loved one with monitoring symptoms such as leg swelling, shortness of breath, and weight gain, and other metrics such as blood pressure and heart rate.
If your loved one’s weight increases by more than 3 pounds in two days or 5 pounds in one week, be sure to alert your doctor. If needed, your loved one’s doctor can provide advice on purchasing a blood pressure and heart-rate monitor. Be sure to ask about whether there are specific issues to watch out for, so that you know when to seek help if needed.
If you’re providing care to another person, it’s important to make time to care for yourself, too. Taking time to participate in activities you enjoy will help keep you healthy and allow you to provide better care to your loved one. Activities like exercise, reading, cooking, knitting, or getting together with friends can recharge your batteries and help you avoid burnout.
A chronic condition comes with challenges — for the person experiencing it as well as their friends, family, and caregivers. Support groups are a way to feel connected, to meet other people who share similar experiences, and to help prevent isolation and loneliness.
Depending on where you live, you and your loved one can connect with people online or in real life. The AHA’s support network can help you get started.
If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider asking friends, family, and other people in your community for help.
The people in your life may want to be helpful, but they might not be sure what you need. Letting them know that you want help, and how they can help, gives you a chance to step out when you need a break. Consider making a list of simple tasks that you could delegate to someone else, such as grocery shopping, cleaning, or preparing food.
If you need coverage for longer periods or more involved tasks, consider looking into respite care. You might also consider hiring someone to help out at home on a regular basis.
Eating a heart-healthy diet can make a big difference in managing heart failure. Learning about good nutrition is something you and your loved one can do together.
If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a dietitian who can help you understand the dietary recommendations for heart failure. A dietitian can also help design specific meal plans.
When it comes to eating a heart-healthy diet, there are some basics to keep in mind:
- Limit certain items. It’s important to limit sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, red meat, and foods that contain sugar. Avoid trans fats as much as possible.
- Choose certain foods more often. Aim for meals focused on nutritious low-fat foods, including high amounts of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. When you eat dairy products, choose low-fat varieties.
Providing emotional support is critical when caring for someone with heart failure. You can promote their emotional well-being by encouraging them to talk about how they’re feeling.
You can also encourage them to reach out to other friends and family, support groups, or social networks to feel more connected. If they seem to be feeling more anxious or depressed than usual, talk about whether they want to discuss their feelings with their doctor or if they might benefit from counseling.
Making lifestyle changes to manage the symptoms of heart failure takes a lot of work. When you notice that your loved one is doing a good job following their treatment plan, exercising, eating right, or practicing other self-care essentials, let them know. You’ll be encouraging them and acknowledging their efforts.
Providing care and support to someone with heart failure can take time and understanding. Remember that you don’t need to do it all on your own. Partnering with your loved one’s doctor, connecting with other caregivers, and leaning on friends and family can make a difference.