If you're caring for someone with heart disease, you can be a good listener or you may take on many chores. Here's how living healthier can help you both.
A heart attack can be a big wake-up call. Doctors ask their heart patients to lose weight and change their diet, stop working overtime, or make time to meditate. They’ll need to keep track of medications and symptoms — or find a helper who will watch out for them.
As a spouse, adult child, sibling, or concerned friend, you can help, being a good listener or taking on many chores. If you live together, you can join your loved one in living healthier, too.
As a caregiver, you you’ll need to ask for help and organize your new life together, giving yourself full credit for all you do. Some people slip backwards reluctantly into task after task. Others fly early on into a frenzy of activity that leads to burn out. Instead, see yourself as taking on a long-term role and set the pace.
It’s easy to despair: Your life may be changing dramatically in ways you didn’t choose. Caregivers say things like:
- “I can't go on vacation. I don't have a life other than caregiving."
- "My world has been turned upside down."
- "I find I neglect my own family to care for my father."
- "My husband used to care for me; now I have to care for him. I miss the protection and feeling I used to have."
- "It's constantly on my mind, no matter what I'm doing."
- "Sometimes I drive back and forth as many as six times a day plus take my lunchtime to care for him. But I must protect my job."
- "I was a stay-at-home mom, but I had to return to full-time work as well as take on all the responsibilities my husband can no longer handle. My mother-in-law had to move in to help with child care and caregiving while I work. It's a big strain to have someone else living in our home."
- "I feel as though I've lost my best friend."
The best way to avoid despair is to take care of yourself. Keep track of your own needs and meet them. The American Heart Association suggests that you take a 10- or 15-minute walk a couple of times a day, perhaps building some fitness activities into chores. Carry your own groceries and park your car far from the entrance. Climb stairs instead of the escalator at a mall.
If you spend hours with your loved one providing direct care, schedule timeouts. If you insist on your timeouts and keep them up, your loved one will learn not to interrupt you. Choose moments when your husband or mother likes to nap or watch TV.
If you find yourself getting burned out, ask yourself if you need:
- Someone to talk to daily other than the person for whom you’re caring
- A regular day off
- Time with your pets
- Outings with friends
- Time in the sun in greenery
- More exercise
You may need information, practical help, or referrals.
Tracking progress will encourage both of you. Heart patients need to weigh themselves daily — ideally each morning before breakfast and after urinating, undressed or in the same clothes, without shoes, on the same scale, and in the same spot. If you live together, you might weigh yourself, too.
If you both need to lose weight, set a short-term goal with a date and a longer one. Plan rewards for reaching each goal and write them down. For example, you might reward yourself or your loved one with a movie for losing a pound that week. When your loved one loses 20 pounds, you might visit friends out of town.
Tracking what you eat will help. You might use a calorie-counting app or adopt a Weight Watcher’s point system. Think about the events that trigger you or your loved one to overeat or skip exercise and plan ways to avoid or cope with them.
Post a list of milestones on your refrigerator or bathroom wall, such as the first time your loved one walked a mile without stopping, or reduced his blood pressure level 10 points.
Keep track of your loved one’s symptom. Note if he or she experiences:
- Shortness of breath during the night or that isn’t related to exertion
- Swelling in the legs or ankles or abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- A hacking cough
- Loss of appetite
- Lingering sadness
Especially if you or your loved one are feeling down, connect to people who can give you the benefit of their experience or provide information.
August 24, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN