The first part of learning to live with heart failure is simply identifying the problem. Living with heart failure isn't easy, but seniors with solid care networks in place are much better prepared to manage their conditions, as well as their medications and therapies, than those without equivalent support. Caregivers can be a critical part of the equation. Let's take a closer look at what you need to know to help your aging loved one cope with heart failure and enjoy a healthier, happier quality of life.
What is Heart Failure?
The term "heart failure" is a misleading one. While it may sound like the heart has completely stopped functioning, it actually means that the heart isn't working as well as well as it would at full health. (It's also important to note that while the terms "heart failure" and "congestive heart failure" are often used interchangeably, the latter is a more severe type of the former, and requires prompt medical attention.)
The heart's primary role is to pump oxygen and blood to the body's cells. When the heart is strong and this occurs normally, the cells receive proper nourishment. When the heart is weak, oxygen and blood supply dwindles. The result? The body can no longer function normally, and "easy," everyday physical activities become much more difficult.
The heart, meanwhile, tries to compensate for its inability to keep up with the workload in a number of different ways, including by pumping faster, enlarging, and developing more muscle mass. They body also tries to make up for the shortage through the narrowing of blood vessels to maintain blood pressure and by diverting resources away from other, less critical organs. While these substitute processes may work temporarily, they're not sustainable over the long run. Meanwhile, the condition continues to progress.
Heart failure is most common in older people and typically develops following another heart condition, such high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and previous heart attacks. Careful management of these conditions can help head off the onset of heart failure. The most effective way to do this is through healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Living with Heart Failure
Five and a half million Americans are currently living with heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. While there is not a cure, it's possible for people with this condition to lead full lives.
In order to manage heart failure, it's first necessary to diagnosis it. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, edema, fatigue or feelings of lightheadedness, lack of appetite or nausea, confusion, and high heart rate. Experts recommend that people with at least one or more of these symptoms should be seen by a healthcare professional. Additionally, because the symptoms of heart failure can be masked by the body's attempts at compensation, regular checkups are also a vital part of ensuring heart health.
Most heart failure treatment plans include lifestyle changes, medications, medical devices, and surgical procedures. Ongoing care is also an important part of the equation, including monitoring these symptoms after the diagnosis of any new or increasing symptoms. As heart failure can worsen incrementally, this is the best way to prevent the condition from worsening. Following doctor's recommendations and taking all medications as prescribed are both essential to living well with heart failure.
Knowledge is power, and that absolutely applies when it comes to heart failure. The more patients and caregivers understand both heart failure and its treatment, the better outcomes they can expect with the right management strategies in place.
mmLearn.org offers a four part video series on Living with Heart Failure - presented by Beverly Toumala, BSN, RN, CHFN, Heart Failure Nurse.
- Part 1: Identifying the Problem,
- Part 2: Medications and Therapies,
- Part 3: Sodium/Fluid Restriction
- Part 4: Putting it all Together
mmLearn.org offers a large catelog of free training videos for caregivers of older adults. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org to be valuable learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.