3 Challenges in Caring for Seniors with Heart Disease

Even though the American Heart Association tells us that cardiovascular disease — heart disease, heart attack and stroke — is 80% preventable, the Centers for Disease Control remind us that it is responsible for one out of every three American deaths.

Our seniors are particularly vulnerable. The AHA reports that heart disease impacts:

  • 70.2% of men aged 60 -79
  • 70.9% of women aged 60 – 79
  • 83% of men aged 80 and older
  • 87% of women aged 80 and older

Most likely, you’re aware that:

  • Exercise makes the heart and lungs stronger: exercise with your parent or loved one.
  • Smoking complicates heart disease because it constricts blood vessels.
  • A low fat diet slows the progression of heart disease.
  • Research has shown that support from friends, family, caregivers and even support groups improves outcomes for heart disease sufferers. (It’s that mind-body connection.)

You or your loved one’s health care team will have an entire protocol for diet, exercise, medication, healthy habits and more.

Still . . . guidelines from doctors, nurses and every health book in the bookstore aren’t worth much when you or your loved one resists change. At Love 2 Live, we deal every day with heart disease sufferers who fight changing their eating, exercise and other habits. Exploring three, common challenges in caring for seniors with heart disease help you dive deeper into why you or your senior loved one resists making the important changes that will prolong his or her life.

senior man with heart disease looking at apple

Obstacles to healthy eating

More complex issues often lie behind a senior’s reluctance to eat healthy foods. First, changes or even decline in sense of taste and smell makes food seem unappealing. Similarly, a reduction in vision changes food’s colors and textures. The gradual progression may have even gone unnoticed by the senior.

With the loss of friends and independence, too, seniors cling to the only familiar things left that comfort them. Often that’s food. If they were raised with bacon, butter and fried foods, eating those brings up pleasurable memories.

To counter these often unconscious forces, family members can bring new meanings to new, healthier meals. Consider dressing up the table or moving it to a fun or sunny location, even outdoors. Preparing new dishes and even playing a card game during meals establishes positive associations with eating healthy.

senior with heart disease holding apple


Obstacles to exercise

Exercise strengthens heart, lungs and muscles. It gets seniors out in their neighborhoods interacting with nature. Why, then, is it so hard to get them to walk around the block once a day? That’s a question the children of our senior clients ask us here at Love 2 Live.

First, remember that the exercise generation started with the babyboomers, today’s senior caregivers. Many of our senior clients are shocked at the very idea of “workout clothes.” A whole wardrobe just to get it all sweaty? Adult children grew up in the exercise generation, but their parents, often survivors of the Great Depression, may view it (and reading, believe it or not) as laziness. Understanding the mindset behind a senior’s resistance to exercise helps adult children shape a more effective strategy for getting them moving.

First, we encourage loved ones to determine when the last time was the senior actually exercised. If it has been a while, they may feel afraid, particularly if they’ve had a fall. A caregiver or loved one accompanying the senior provides a social aspect that motivates them to overcome any fear they may have.

Add the social aspect, too, when you explore the “silver sneakers” walking groups or exercise classes through the nearby community centers. Lots of community pools have senior water aerobics classes and even senior only hours. Enter the senior’s zipcode into the city of San Diego’s Parks and Recreation department home page to find recreation centers and their schedules.

 Obstacles to dealing with mood

Aging and heart disease both impact a senior’s mood. No one is impervious to the tragedy of the body’s decline. Some days, our senior clients manage to ignore it, but other days it really gets to them. Anxiety and/or depression can manifest in a short temper or isolation. Some of our clients work hard to keep up a positive mood, but that can drain as well.

One of the worst things about managing an illness and fraility is the sense that one is all alone. Loved ones and caregivers cannot cure the disease or the advance of years, but they can get the senior to talk about the issues related to both through an organization called Mended Hearts, a community-based support group for heart patients and their caregivers. In operation since 1951, Mended Hearts 20,000 members run a tight ship! Call 888-432-7899 for information about a chapter near you.

Love 2 Live caregivers take heart disease seriously

Love 2 Live’s enthusiastic caregivers have completed entire training programs around the management of heart disease in seniors. Our caregivers accompany seniors on walks, to the community pool and even the gym! The fresh, fun meals they prepare help clients understand the whole exciting world of flavor involved in low-fat cooking. Trained to follow healthcare instructions for heart patients and those with chronic heart failure, our caregivers act as the eyes and ears for loved ones and family members. If you’re ready to explore in-home, non-medical senior care, call us at 619-291-4663 or schedule your free in-home assessment interview here.

Despite a nationwide awareness campaign started in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson established February as American Heart month, heart disease is still the number one killer of American men and women and a major cause of permanent disability. Half of all Americans have one of the major risk factors. In a recent proclamation, President Obama called on U.S. citizens and researchers to recommit to improving our heart health.

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