Heart Failure: Tips for Caregivers
Talk with doctors, therapists, and counselors about how to help a friend or relative living with heart failure.
Most people don't hesitate when they are called upon to help a loved one who is ill. But being a full-time caregiver may be an unfamiliar role for you. It is important to consider the long-term implications of this commitment, because so many people with heart failure will progress to an end stage of their disease and will need assistance to survive.
Helping with daily activities
The person you are caring for may have considerable physical limitations and must rely on others for help with relatively simple but important tasks. You and your family may choose to assume a large role in managing day-to-day tasks. Some of the ways in which you can help are listed below.
Giving emotional support
You can help provide the emotional support that your loved one needs by:
Living through the last weeks or months of progressive heart failure can be a very difficult process, requiring all the support a family can muster.
Looking after yourself
Being a caregiver can be mentally and physically challenging. There are steps you can take to help make the situation more manageable for yourself. Remember that you will be an effective and loving caregiver only if you are in good physical and mental shape.
Seeking outside help
Some families need outside help to care for a loved one with heart failure. If all of your family members work, it may not be possible to care for your loved one at home. Some people with heart failure require more care than their family can reasonably be expected to provide. In these cases, you may consider placing your loved one in a long-term care facility.
The available long-term care options depend on your loved one's level of independence and need for supervision. Some people with heart failure are relatively independent and able to perform basic activities on their own, but they need assistance in preparing meals and sorting their medicines. These people may be well cared for in a supervised living facility that provides food and staff but not routine nursing care. Other people may have difficulty performing basic activities and may get better care in a nursing home where the staff can assist them with eating and bathing. In a nursing home, nurses can track your loved one's symptoms and make sure that they take their drugs appropriately.
It is important for people who are in long-term care facilities to feel that they are still a part of their family. Frequent visits by family members or day trips to the family home go a long way in improving these people's emotional health.
Considering the end of life
It is important for families to be willing to discuss end-of-life issues with both their loved one and his or her doctor. A clear decision needs to be made regarding what to do if your severely sick loved one becomes even sicker. You and your loved one should decide whether life-support measures should be used if your loved one's condition becomes more severe. Discuss these issues with your doctor.
Some people feel very strongly that every possible medical treatment should be used to prolong their lives. Others feel that if there is no reasonable chance of their health improving, then the only measures that should be taken are those that make them as comfortable as possible. This is a very personal, and can be a very difficult, decision.
It is much easier to make this decision when your loved one feels relatively healthy and is able to openly express his or her wishes to a family member or friend. Even if it is uncomfortable, try to give your loved one support during this tough time.
Helping you pay for health care
Fortunately, both large and small foundations exist to help people pay for medical care that they could otherwise not afford. Many of the foundations offer grants to pay for other services beyond health care. Many hospitals in the United States are not-for-profit institutions whose mission is to provide high-quality health care to the communities they serve. In many instances, this goal includes delivering medical services to people who cannot pay for care.
There is also assistance for people who cannot afford the medicines prescribed for their disease. In the case of medicines, drug manufacturers who have developed patient assistance programs (PAPs) distribute free or discounted medicines to people who otherwise could not afford them.
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