We only have one, and it is possibly the most critical part of the body – so hearing the news that our heart is “failing” is alarming. Congestive heart failure, or CHF, impacts about 6 million individuals in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC, and although it’s a chronic condition, there are steps to take to slow the advancement and manage the effects, which helps seniors live with CHF at home more comfortably.
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Generally speaking, congestive heart failure (CHF) is the consequence of a weakening of the heart from issues such as:
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- Cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle)
- Malfunctioning heart valves
- Congenital heart defects
- Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
- Heart arrhythmias
- Thyroid disease
- And other chronic illnesses
What Are the Stages of CHF?
There are four principal stages of CHF:
People who are at risk for developing congestive heart failure as a result of having diabetes, a family history of cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, or early coronary artery disease, are looked at as being in the early stage of the disease. At this level, lifestyle changes are important to stop CHF from developing. This might include dietary changes, exercise, and medications.
In this stage, there are some signs of changes to the heart that could lead to CHF. There might have been a preceding heart attack or heart valve disease, or high blood pressure might be compromising heart health. Treatment includes the lifestyle adjustments for Stage A, alongside possible surgical procedures or other treatment for heart valve disease, heart attack, or artery blockage.
Stage C is the first stage in which CHF is officially diagnosed. Observable symptoms include swelling in the legs, shortness of breath (including after awakening or getting up from a reclined position), and the inability to exercise. Cardiac rehabilitation and medications might help improve quality and length of life for individuals in Stage C.
When a person reaches Stage D, the options include a mechanical heart pump or heart transplant. It is essential to see a heart specialist as soon as possible upon getting a diagnosis of Stage D CHF to determine the optimum treatment solution.
How to Live With Congestive Heart Failure
The American Heart Association recommends moderately strenuous aerobic exercise for a minimum of a half an hour each day, 5 days a week, for optimal heart health. Still, it is important to ask the doctor for specific guidelines. Most notably, exercising shouldn’t result in breathlessness for people who have CHF.
Other worthwhile lifestyle modifications to slow the progression of CHF include:
- Observing a low- or reduced-salt diet
- Staying away from alcohol and smoking
- Sustaining a healthy body weight
- Keeping blood pressure levels under control
- Getting enough sleep
- Decreasing stress
How Can Home Care Help Seniors Live With CHF?
A skilled caregiver can make a significant difference in the quality of life for a loved one with CHF. A few of the many ways they are able to help include:
- Trips to pick up groceries and preparing heart-healthy meals
- Offering transportation to medical appointments
- Motivating and encouraging the individual to stick to an exercise program
- Ensuring medications are taken exactly when and how they have been prescribed
- Providing friendly companionship to relieve loneliness and isolation
- And much more