Oftentimes, we find ourselves caring for a friend or family member who is living with heart failure. Moreover, it’s an unfamiliar role and one that most of us go into without completely understanding what all is involved — especially if it’s taken it on as a full-time job. Here’s an idea of what you can expect if you become a caregiver:
Help with daily activities
Shop for and prepare food
Many people with severe heart failure cannot leave the house to go grocery shopping. You can help shop for low-fat, low-salt, and low-cholesterol foods. You may also be involved with preparing these types of meals.
Simple cleaning tasks can be too physically demanding for someone with heart failure. You may want to help clean your loved one’s house regularly or hire a cleaning service.
Be a driver
A person with heart failure may no longer be able to drive because of irregular heart rhythms, fainting spells, or other complications of heart failure. But he or she will need to go to frequent doctor appointments and will need someone else to drive to these appointments and to other destinations too.
Most people with heart failure require multiple medicines to control their symptoms. Many of these drugs must be taken several times each day. Help your loved one by organizing the drugs, perhaps using a pillbox with one compartment for each day of the week or marking a calendar to help keep track of when to take medicines.
If your loved one cannot keep track of his or her own weight, you may need to help. Even small changes in weight can signal a dangerous buildup of fluid. You should encourage your loved one to weigh himself or herself at the same time every day and to call the doctor if there is a sudden increase in weight. Call the doctor if other symptoms of heart failure get worse.
Getting around the house
If your loved one has trouble getting around because of heart failure, you may need to consider rearranging his or her house to make daily tasks easier to do. People with severe heart failure should not have to climb stairs on a routine basis. If possible, move your loved one’s bedroom to the main floor of the house. If the bathroom and bedroom are on different floors, a bedside commode may be very helpful.
Symptoms of heart failure often get worse during hot, humid days. Use an air conditioner during the summer.
Provide emotional support
Adopting the lifestyle changes that doctors recommend for heart disease can be difficult for your loved one. Encourage him or her to start slowly and gradually build up to an overall goal. Even though your loved one may have physical limitations, he or she should still try to stay as active as possible. Moderate exercise and doing simple tasks around the house can be safe. This can help your loved one feel better both physically and mentally. If you are concerned about what activities are safe, talk with the doctor.
Participate in doctor visits. Ask your loved one if you can attend doctor visits. You can offer support by being with him or her and taking notes. This can help your loved one remember important instructions. He or she may also feel less alone during recovery.
Take care of yourself
Being a caregiver can be mentally and physically challenging. There are steps you can take to help make the situation more manageable for yourself. Remember that you will be an effective and loving caregiver only if you are in good physical and mental shape.
Ask for help when you need it and if possible, don’t take on all the responsibilities yourself. You may be able to involve other family members or a visiting nurse.
Or you may be able to hire a food delivery or housekeeping service to help with the shopping and cleaning. There may be services available within your community to help. Check with local government agencies, service clubs, and churches.
Take time for yourself. Being a caregiver can be stressful and time-consuming. It’s important to take time for activities that you enjoy so you can continue to provide care and support for your loved one.
Seek emotional support if you need it. Being a caregiver to a loved one whose health is deteriorating can be emotionally difficult. If you are having trouble coping with your feelings, seek advice and counseling from family members, trained mental health professionals, or spiritual advisors.
Seek outside help
Some families need outside help to care for a loved one with heart failure. If all of your family members work, it may not be possible to care for your loved one at home. Some people with heart failure require more care than their family can reasonably be expected to provide. In these cases, you may consider placing your loved one in a long-term care facility.
The available long-term care options depend on your loved one’s level of independence and need for supervision. Some people with heart failure are relatively independent and able to perform basic activities on their own, but they need assistance in preparing meals and sorting their medicines. These people may be well cared for in a supervised living facility that provides food and staff but not routine nursing care. Other people may have difficulty performing basic activities and may get better care in a nursing home where the staff can assist them with eating and bathing. In a nursing home, nurses can track your loved one’s symptoms and make sure that they take their medications.
It is important for people who are in long-term care facilities to feel that they are still a part of their family. Frequent visits by family members or day trips to the family home go a long way in improving these people’s emotional health.
Remember, you are not alone and if you need help, there are many resources available to you in your community.