Would you recognize heart failure symptoms? Would you know what to do? Here are signs to watch for and how to support your senior.
Heart failure affects millions of seniors
According to the American Heart Association, about 5.7 million Americans are living with heart failure. It’s one of the most common reasons for people 65+ to go to the hospital. Because so many older adults are affected, it’s important for caregivers to recognize heart failure symptoms and know how to support seniors with this condition.
What is heart failure?
Heart failure is when the heart becomes weakened and can’t pump as efficiently. The kidneys respond by causing the body to retain water and salt. When fluid builds up, the body becomes congested, which is why it’s often called congestive heart failure or CHF.
Heart failure symptoms to watch for
Any one sign of heart failure might not be reason to worry. But if you notice more than one symptom, even if your senior hasn’t been diagnosed with heart problems, ask their doctor to evaluate their heart and overall health.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of heart failure:
- Shortness of breath: difficulty breathing while lying flat, need to prop up the upper body and head on more pillows, waking up tired, or feeling anxious and restless
- Persistent coughing or wheezing: coughing that produces white or pink mucus
- Buildup of fluid in the body (edema): swelling in feet, ankles, legs or abdomen or weight gain
- Tiredness, fatigue: a tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities like carrying groceries or climbing stairs
- Lack of appetite, nausea: a feeling of being full or sick to the stomach
- Confusion, impaired thinking: memory loss and feeling disorientated caused by changing levels of substances in the blood, like sodium
- Increased heart rate: feel like their heart is racing or throbbing
How caregivers can support seniors with heart failure
Fortunately, heart failure can be treated with medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes. Following doctor’s orders and learning about the condition enables you to help your older adult live comfortably.
6 ways to support seniors with heart failure:
- Help make lasting lifestyle changes like switching to a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, and limiting salt
- Make sure medication is taken as prescribed and watch for side effects
- Connect them with sources of emotional support like heart failure support groups, social workers, or therapists — these are great for caregivers too!
- Prevent flu and pneumonia with yearly vaccines
- Consider palliative care to help manage symptoms and get advice on tough decisions
- Schedule annual heart failure reviews with their doctor to discuss how well they’re doing, current treatment goals, and preferences for treating possible emergencies, like kidney failure or heart attack