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Blog Feature

By: Marissa Salvesen on February 29th, 2016

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Four Tips for Senior Caregivers During American Heart Month

Aging & Caregiving

tips for senior caregiving during american heart monthOf the 83.6 million American adults living with cardiovascular disease, more than half are over the age of 60, according to the American Heart Association. There’s no better time to shine a light on this topic than during February’s American Heart Month. While coping with heart disease can be a challenge, the right care and treatment can both improve and save lives. Let’s take a closer look at some caregiver tips.

1. Diet Matters

Eating right is a valuable tool in managing heart disease. One simple strategy? Limit foods requiring nutrition labels and serve up plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains instead. These are more heart healthy choices than their processed, fried, and white carbohydrate alternatives.

When reading nutrition labels, be particularly cautious about sodium levels as too much salt can be particularly dangerous for people with heart failure. As with most things in life, moderation is key. Your aging loved one can likely still indulge in favorite things, but keep portion sizes small.

Many caregivers can turn to dietitians for help with customizing a meal plan for their loved one’s specific requirements.

2. Incorporate Activity

According to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s Director of Cardiology Consultation Services, David A. Meyerson, MD, JD, “The more activity you do, the better your cardiovascular health.”

While getting started can be a challenge in the case of sedentary seniors, it’s worth the effort. Start small but try for 30 minutes a few days a week and build from there, alternating days between aerobic exercise and strength training. The best part? In addition to cardiovascular benefits, seniors can also gain better balance and alleviation of arthritis symptoms to enhance self-esteem.

One particularly effective way for caregivers to get seniors up and moving? Exercise along with them.

3. Manage Medication

An abundance of research connects patient engagement levels with healthier outcomes. As much as possible, encourage your aging loved one to manage and track their own medicationusing tools such as pillboxes and reminders. If this is no longer a task he or she is able to manage alone, enlist the help of a family member or homecare agency. If your loved one lives in a senior living community, consult the community’s wellness team to inquire about assistance with medication management.

It’s also important to keep a current list of all medications, including OTC meds, which should be reviewed by your loved one’s doctor at every visit. This can help prevent “polypharmacy,” a dangerous and yet common situation involving the effects of multiple medications.

4. Watch for Warning Signs

If you notice new or worsening symptoms, such as leg swelling, dizziness, shortness of breath, or new chest pain, it’s important to check in with your loved one’s physician as these changes may indicate a more serious condition. If you think a situation may be an emergency, call 911. In matters of heart health, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Remember: your aging loved one’s healthcare team can offer invaluable partnership when it comes to learning how to manage your loved one's condition. If possible, attend appointmentswith your loved one, ask questions, and take notes.

One last thing to keep in mind? Caring for someone with a chronic disease can be overwhelming. In order to avoid burnout while continuing to provide care, make sure to acknowledge your own health care needs, as well.

Key Takeaways

  • Many seniors live with cardiovascular illness, but the right care and treatment can be life-saving.
  • Assisting with meal choices, encouraging exercise, monitoring medication, and watching for warning signs are all ways caregivers can make a difference in senior heart health.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your aging loved one’s doctor for guidance in coming up with a realistic treatment plan.
  • In addition to caring for aging seniors, caregivers must also make time to safeguard their own health and wellness.

 

Caring for the Heart

About Marissa Salvesen

My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!

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