The number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double in the next 20-30 years. This means that the percentage of the population that suffers from heart disease will also rise dramatically. It is important for physicians involved in the treatment of these patients to focus not only on medical management of the disease but also on the quality of life that is experienced while medical management takes place. And elderly heart disease patients consistently define quality of life as the ability to perform physical and social activities and engage in fulfilling relationships.
Elderly patients with heart failure experience a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that can cause feelings of isolation, dependence and uncertainty including labored breathing, fatigue, swelling in the extremities, difficulty sleeping, depression and more. Finding a physician that emphasizes abilities and independence as a part of your treatment plan can help you live more fully and more normally.
The following are important considerations if you are elderly and suffer from heart disease:
Requiring care in various settings
If you are in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, the oversight provided by the physician who manages routine care within the facility and the treatment prescribed by your cardiologist must be coordinated. Each physician should be kept informed of all aspects of your health, your medications and your condition.
Heart failure combined with other medical conditions
Heart failure can produce symptoms and other conditions that have an impact on your ability to function normally. For example, you may experience incontinence or very frequent urination needs. This is a result of the fluids that tend to build up in your body when you have heart failure.
Another condition that can arise from heart failure is renal insufficiency which means that your kidneys are unable to filter your blood normally. This causes swelling in your feet, ankles and lower legs. Or, you may experience symptoms of serious depression as a result of heart failure.
If you notice any of these symptoms – or others that are not normal – tell your physician immediately since all of them can worsen your heart condition. You will find that many of the issues have simple solutions including medications, dietary changes, the avoidance of certain foods, sharing your feelings with a family member or friend and getting as much rest as possible.
Don’t become your disease
Do not let your disease define who you are or what you do in life. Keep a positive outlook and, if you become overwhelmed with your circumstances, reach out to family or friends.
Take your medications
This may seem like an obvious choice, but it is crucial to take all of the medications prescribed by your physician precisely when and how they are prescribed. These medications help you breathe more easily, have more energy, experience less swelling and stay out of the hospital.
Get involved with your health care team
Share everything with the physicians, nurses and others that are involved in your care and ask every question you need to ask to understand your disease, your treatment plan, your medications and your choices.
While you can’t do it all, do what you can
Even though you might not be able to run a marathon after being diagnosed with heart failure, it is important that you continue to be active and do the things that are most important to you. Schedule social activities, visit with family and friends, and pursue your favorite hobbies.
You might tire more easily, but you must continue to move around and be active. Some people with heart failure shy away from exercise or sports, but remember that exercising will not hurt your heart as long as you have cleared the activities with your physician. In fact, patients with heart failure who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms, sleep better, and have lower numbers of hospitalizations.
To learn more about maintaining quality of life if you are an elderly patient with heart disease, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.