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Heart Failure: Tips for Caregivers

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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.

Recommended Related to Heart Failure

Understanding Heart Failure -- Symptoms

The symptoms of heart failure can be related to the pooling of fluid in the body or can be secondary to decreased blood flow to the body. Some people with heart failure don't experience symptoms, but here are some of the more common signs: Shortness of breath with exercise or difficulty breathing at rest or when lying down Swollen legs, ankles, or abdomen Dry, hacking cough, or wheezing Other symptoms may include: Fatigue, palpitations, or pain during normal activities Weig...

Read the Understanding Heart Failure -- Symptoms article > >

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.

  • Shopping for and preparing food. Many people with severe heart failure cannot leave the house on their own to shop for food. You can help shop for heart-healthy, low-sodium foods. Also, you may be involved with preparing these types of meals.
  • Cleaning. Simple cleaning tasks can be too physically demanding for someone with heart failure. You may want to help clean your loved one's house regularly or hire a maid service.
  • Driving. A person with heart failure may no longer be able to drive because of irregular heart rhythms, fainting spells, or other complications of heart failure. But he or she will need to go to frequent doctor appointments and will need someone else to drive to these appointments and to other destinations too.
  • Drugs. Most people with heart failure require multiple medicines to control their symptoms. Many of these drugs must be taken several times each day. Make sure that the person can afford to pay for the medicines. Help your loved one by organizing the drugs, perhaps using a pillbox with one compartment for each day of the week or marking a calendar to help keep track of when to take medicines.
  • Monitoring symptoms. If your loved one cannot keep track of his or her own weight, you may need to help. Even small changes in weight can signal a dangerous buildup of fluid. You should encourage your loved one to weigh himself or herself at the same time every day and to call the doctor if there is a sudden increase in weight. Call the doctor if other symptoms of heart failure get worse.
  • Stairs. If your loved one has trouble getting around because of heart failure, you may need to consider rearranging his or her house to make daily tasks easier to do. People with severe heart failure should not have to climb stairs on a routine basis. If possible, move your loved one's bedroom to the main floor of the house. If the bathroom and bedroom are on different floors, a bedside commode may be very helpful.
  • Temperature. Symptoms of heart failure often get worse during hot, humid days. Use an air conditioner during the summer.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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