Heart failure. Does your senior loved one have it – and it them?
Have repeated hospital admissions plagued them over the past year due to congestive heart failure?
Are they closely following their treatment plan?
Everyday monitoring by their healthcare team become part of her or his routine?
What should family caregivers know to help senior loved ones with heart failure?
Heart Failure – What is It?
Heart failure, also referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF), occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the needs of your body.
The heart becomes too weak over time as a result of many causes such as narrowing arteries, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and excess weight. Blood and fluid can back up around your heart, lungs and other organs.
Symptoms include being short of breath, edema (swelling, typically in the feet, ankles and legs), fatigue, weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sudden weight gain related to fluid retention, and difficulty concentrating.
Treatment Plan for Heart Failure
Medications can improve heart failure and allow your senior to participate in daily activities and live for a longer time.
However, lifestyle changes can also improve your senior’s health and quality of life. These changes can include such things as physical activity, weight loss, smoking cessation, cutting back on the salt in the diet, and controlling stress.
Your senior’s healthcare team may prescribe a treatment plan that includes some or all of the following steps.
- Daily weight checks – reporting a weight gain of greater than a specified level to the team, keeping a log of daily weights and bringing it to doctor appointments.
- Taking medications as prescribed – it may seem like many medications but all should be taken as the doctor recommends. Your senior should talk with the healthcare team if they can’t afford all prescribed medications so part of the treatment isn’t missed without the team’s knowledge.
- Reduce the salt in the diet – most people should restrict their sodium to 2,000 mg or fewer per day, but the doctor may suggest going as low as 1,500 mg. Removing the salt shaker may help to resist temptation and consider the use of alternate seasonings. Don’t forget to have the senior read food labels, since most sodium is found in foods already prepared.
- Stay physically active everyday – participate in moderate activities for at least 30 minutes for best benefit, checking first with the doctor about which type of activity and exertion can be safely tolerated.
- Reduce stress – calming and relaxing can help your senior loved one avoid adding pressure to his/her heart.
- Sleep through the night – prop the pillow to maintain head elevation and take any prescribed diuretic earlier in the day to avoid frequent bathroom trips.
- Find time during the day to elevate the feet
- Stop smoking
Mobile Technology to the Rescue
Many healthcare organizations across the US have begun new programs to benefit those seniors who suffer from heart failure and are at risk for frequent hospitalizations due to CHF.
Hospitals have been penalized with monetary sanctions under the new healthcare law for people who are readmitted within 30 days. The goal of this legislation was to reduce the risk of a disease that can be managed to prevent worsening symptoms and crisis care, which costs Medicare what is estimated to be billions of dollars each year. In an effort to avoid a monetary penalty, many healthcare organizations are implementing innovative solutions, through the use of technology, aimed at preventing seniors with CHF from needing readmission for a flare-up of their condition.
Several programs have provided seniors with a scale to be used to take a daily weight that is connected via the internet to the physician’s office. Each morning when the senior steps on the scale, their weight is sent directly to the computer in the doctor’s office, where changes can be monitored. If even a one or two pound gain appears, the nurse can contact the senior via telephone and discuss what has been happening and assess whether the treatment plan should be updated.
Interventions can include such things as increasing a dose of diuretics to reduce fluid retention, ensuring that medications for blood pressure are taken and supply is up to date, and scheduling an office visit if needed. Blood pressure can also be monitored remotely and results sent directly to the doctor’s office and family caregiver for close monitoring.
Personal Attention & Technology – A Beneficial Combination
One on one personal attention is invaluable in preventing a worsening of CHF but can also impact depression in these vulnerable seniors. Keeping our seniors healthier and out of the hospital is good for the senior, family members and even the health care system.
This type of technology, which can keep fragile seniors connected to the services they need, has been shown to cost effective. The minimal cost of the devices is a small price to pay when compared to a hospitalization, which could cost more than $6,000-$10,000 each month when CHF is not controlled.
We look forward to more healthcare organizations connecting our seniors to valuable health resources and home monitoring for not only heart failure but brittle diabetes, asthma, COPD and many other chronic diseases which could prevent our seniors from aging in place where so many of them want to live.
Home monitoring of medical conditions and compliance to treatment plans using the latest technology can keep our seniors safe at home longer and living a better quality of life.
If your senior is connected to their healthcare team, we would love to hear your story.
If they aren’t, perhaps you can advocate for them to get connected and ride the wave of the future – to help give them a better future!