5 Keys to Caring for Someone with a Heart Condition

5 Keys to Caring for Someone with a Heart Condition

Healthline |
22 February 2017

Providing care for a loved one comes with many challenges—and caring for someone with a heart condition is no exception. One of the biggest obstacles for many caregivers is finding time for their own self-care. According to the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP), many who serve as caregivers for loved ones with heart disease actually increase their own risk of heart problems by not taking care of themselves.

Take a moment to consider if these 5 keys could help make your caregiving role a little easier—and help you find some time for yourself, too.

Eat a heart-healthy diet yourself. The AJHP reports that caregivers who burn the candle at both ends may neglect basic elements of self-care. When caregivers experience excessive demands on their time or feel overwhelmed, they’re more likely to take shortcuts with their nutrition and fitness.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that caregivers to those with a heart condition make sure to eat a heart-healthy diet themselves. Focus on eating foods low in fats, cholesterol, and salt. The AHA also recommends eating plenty of:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Lean meats
  • Whole grain foods
  • Fish and poultry
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

Get out of the house. Caregiving can be extremely time-consuming, making it difficult to work exercise into your schedule. But physical activity is important for your health—and can be even more so when you’re serving as a caregiver. The AJHP found that in the year following the release of a family member with heart disease from the hospital, those with heavy caregiving duties were less likely to get even moderate exercise.

The AHA advises caregivers to do their best to stay physically active to decrease their own risk of developing heart disease. Regular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help lower your blood pressure. You just need 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, five days per week. If it’s difficult for you to take that half-hour all at once, the AHA notes that three 10-minute sessions bring almost the same benefit as a 30-minute workout.

Connect with others. Caregivers may start to feel isolated if they don’t make efforts to connect with others outside of their caregiving responsibilities. The Mayo Clinic offers three ways that caregivers can reduce stress by staying connected:

  • Find a support group. Sharing experiences with others in a similar situation can be rewarding for all involved.
  • Tap organizations. Healthcare organizations like Red Cross or AHA can offer support and resources to caregivers.
  • Stay social. Maintaining a strong support system is important. Set a goal to spend time every week with family and friends outside the house.

Take a timeout. It’s normal for caregivers to occasionally feel burnt out due to their responsibilities. To prevent this, the AHA suggests that caregivers schedule “timeouts” for themselves. Timeouts are simply time that you give yourself each day to focus on self-care. Timeouts can be short—just 10 or 15 minutes—or longer if you can take more time.

During a timeout, you can do some exercise, read, listen to music, talk to a friend on the phone, or just relax and take some deep breaths. If you’re worried that your loved one might need you while you’re taking some time for yourself, schedule your timeouts regularly during their nap, or while they’re engaged in reading or watching TV.

Use constructive communication. Part of the stress of caregiving for someone with a heart condition involves communicating effectively with your loved one. Your family member may be feeling scared or depressed about their condition. If your loved one has had a stroke, communication may be especially challenging.

The AHA suggests keeping these general guidelines in mind to improve communication:

  • Speak directly to your loved one in a clear manner; don’t expect them to guess what you need.
  • Be assertive but patient.
  • Focus on listening, which is the key to effective communication.

HealthAhead Hint: Make Time for You
Caregivers provide a strong sense of comfort and support to their loved ones. But they also need to focus on self-care. Remember the importance of diet, exercise, and stress prevention to your own heart health—and take steps to ensure that your own needs don’t get lost in the shuffle.