Supporting Loved Ones with Heart Disease

Supporting Loved Ones with Heart Disease

Statistically speaking, we will all be touched in some way by heart disease. 

One in three women around the world will die from heart disease.  Here in Australia, heart disease claims the life of one woman every hour and kills more women than all the cancers combined.

The statistics are alarming and tell us that heart disease will invariably touch all of us at some point, whether it be directly or indirectly via a loved one.

But rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless by the apparent inevitability that heart disease will affect us all, we can prepare by understanding how to support our loved ones with heart disease.

A cardiac event or diagnosis of heart disease can be a time of great stress and shock for not only the patient but for those around them too.  Your lives can feel turned around in the blink of an eye, with the experience taking an enormous physical and emotional toll on everyone involved.  Moreover, you may now find yourself a carer – a role which doesn’t come to any forewarning or pre-planning and certainly doesn’t come with an operating manual.

If you find yourself now caring for somebody with heart disease, there are a raft of ways in which you can help support them.

If you ever feel like you are struggling with the responsibilities of being a carer for your loved one, ensure you discuss how you are feeling with somebody such as family member, friend, doctor or counsellor.

1. Understand the condition

Following a cardiac event, your loved one will be discharged from hospital with a clinical care plan.  To help your loved one navigate through the transition to going home, you can help by taking time to understand their illness.  Arm yourself with all information and make sure you ask plenty of questions from the treating cardiologist.  And don’t be daunted by medical lingo, if it doesn’t make sense make sure your question the medical professionals until it does.

2. Help manage ongoing treatment

Your loved one will have a lot going on emotionally.  You can help them by familiarising yourself with their care plan including all medication and follow-up appointments.   Knowing the purpose, dosage and potential side effects of all medications will be helpful to your loved one.

Following a cardiac event, most people will also have some sort of Cardiac Rehabilitation which equips survivors and their loved ones with advice, support and practical changes needed in order to resume a normal life.  Rehabilitation can also not only prevent further cardiac problems but also help support you and your family to deal with the emotional, psychological and physical problems commonly experienced after a cardiac event. Typically, the sessions focus on information and exercise, helping one to understand their heart condition, recover from their cardiac event and empower as well educate survivors to make lifestyle changes for heart health. Taking the time to accompany them to follow-up appointments and rehabilitation will also ensure a ‘second set of ears’ to absorb what can often be vast amounts of important information.

Visit the Australian Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Association for a list of Cardiac Rehabilitation Programs.

3. Make positive lifestyle changes together

Following a cardiac event, it is likely your loved one will need to make some lifestyle changes, whether it be reducing their cholesterol, quitting smoking or increasing physical activity.  Making these changes can be a challenge, especially if it means changing bad habits that have been formed over the years.  You can help your loved one make these lifestyle changes by doing them together, for example joining a walking group together or trying new, heart-healthy recipes.   Not only will you help your loved one with their recovery but you too may find you are feeling healthier and stronger, which is equally as important now that you are caring for another.

4. Monitoring mental health

The ‘Cardiac Blues’ is a term which describes a temporary, yet substantial, emotional response to a cardiac event.  This could involve feelings of tearfulness, sleep disturbance, withdrawing from loved ones, irritability, forgetfulness and low self-esteem.  All of this is a normal response yet for sufferers, it might lead to feeling distressed or abnormal.  You can monitor your loved one for signs of ‘cardiac blues’ or even better, be there to talk to them about their feelings and assure them that it is perfectly normal to experience these feelings after a cardiac event.  If your loved one needs additional support to cope with these feelings, you could speak with their doctor and perhaps help them to seek counselling.

5. Practical assistance

Life is busy.  There are bills to pay, appointments to keep, books to return, lawns to be mown, meals to cook, dry cleaning to be collected, the list goes on and on.  Yet following a cardiac event, resting is critical.  Sit down with your loved one and work your way through what needs to be done, by whom and when.  And whether it is you alone, or others within your network, map out a plan to help alleviate some of the practical pressures on your loved one.  A meal roster is a great place to start, together with assistance with the garden, washing and driving.  Not only will your loved one be supported practically, but the show of kindness and support will also act as a reminder about how people feel about them.

Remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. 

6. Look after yourself

All too often, carers put the needs of the patient before the needs of themselves.  However, the last thing anyone needs is for the carer to collapse with exhaustion and stress.  If you ever feel like you are struggling with the responsibilities of being a carer for your loved one, ensure you discuss how you are feeling with somebody such as family member, friend, doctor or counsellor.

Look after yourself by accepting help from your support network, ensuring you get enough sleep, talking about your feelings with others, eating a healthy diet including whole grains, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables and importantly, don’t forget to also make time just for yourself, even if it is just an hour here and there, to regroup and relax.