Caring for Loved Ones with Heart Disease
“My family has heart disease on both sides.” This is how I usually begin my conversations with medical professionals, whether at a medical appointment, procedure or providing family medical history. Heart disease is at the top of the list.
Caring for someone with heart disease means caring for yourself and knowing the contributing factors to your loved one’s diagnosis. Ask questions and look at their lifestyle. Do they smoke? Are they overweight? How is their blood pressure or cholesterol? Do they take medication? What is the family history?
Now ask yourself the same questions as a family member. How do you answer them in regard to your own health? These are hard questions to ask and it might be tempting to “bury your head in the sand” rather than approach heart disease head on. No one wants to be “sick,” especially the person who has been diagnosed!
Family medical history can play a big role in heart disease, but an even larger contributing factor is lifestyle. Annual checkups with a physician can help discover and/or monitor heart disease. My father was never overweight, didn’t smoke, and his blood pressure was pretty good, yet he was diagnosed with heart disease. At 49 he had his first stent placed in a coronary artery due to extensive blockage. How could this be? His “risk” factors were low, yet he had serious heart disease. Family history was the answer, bad genes!
Early on in the disease, caring for him meant we all started exercising more, eating healthy (with the occasional splurge), monitoring our blood pressure, checking cholesterol and communicating with all physicians. The entire family had to care because it was now our “risk” factor as children.
If you find yourself caring for a loved one with heart disease or it is in your family history, there are a few things I have found to be helpful.
- Ask questions and educate yourself about the type of heart disease.
- Know your risks and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Encourage open discussion about changes that need to occur.
- Be supportive and encouraging, do not nag. You can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do.
- Exercise! Do some type of daily activity to keep the blood flowing and the vessels working.
- Try to eat a heart-healthy diet the majority of the time.
- Decrease stress, as it can cause major health and wellness issues.
- Laugh a lot and love life!
I’ll be honest, I don’t always follow my own advice, but I do the best I can. My goal is to be the family member who does not develop heart disease! No guarantees, but I keep trying.
For those who are caring for loved ones with heart disease, strive to be supportive and continue educating yourself on the latest information and research. Finally, remember to lead by example and live a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease and encourage others to do the same.
By: Jeryn Laengrich, MS, CCC/SLP