Caring for the caregiver
The demands and limits of managing Heart Failure (HF) can be frustrating, distressing, and occasionally agonizing. It’s easy to focus so much on your loved one’s health that you overlook your own well-being, which isn’t good for either of you.
HF is a long-term, progressive condition. Actively managed, its progress may be slowed in some patients. But one way or another, you’re in this for the long haul. And unless you understand what’s involved, there can be a level of stress for you that can be harmful.
You’d be the last person to say so, but looking after a tired or exhausted HF patient can leave you exhausted—emotionally, as well as physically. It’s more than an impression. Caregivers aged 50+ are more likely to report stress than those in the same age bracket in the general population.
Caregivers of people with HF have reported high stress, feeling burdened from the demands on them, depression symptoms, and poor physical as well as emotional health. The fact is, you can’t do the best job of looking after someone with HF unless you’re also looking after yourself.
Believing you can shoulder the whole responsibility of caregiving yourself is a recipe for burnout. Put together a strong care team of family, friends, and professionals. Then call on them. For driving to appointments, shopping, cooking, cheerleading—whatever's helpful. And covering for you when you need a break.
You’re likely to find advice and support through the American Heart Association. Look for the Caregivers’ section of their website. Get to know the Caregiver Action Network (formerly the National Family Caregivers Association). And consider joining a caregivers’ support group.
It doesn’t matter how attached you are. From time to time, taking care of a loved one may leave you feeling drained, even trapped. Don’t wait until frustration and anger get the better of you. Be sure to get out regularly and get away from thoughts of HF for a while. Meet up with a friend. Go to a movie.
Neglecting your health won’t help your loved one. Often, what’s good for your HF patient is also good for you. When you’re juggling chores and errands—and maybe a full-time job—it’s easy to get tired and substitute snacks for meals, or let your own workouts fall by the wayside.
If you live in the same house and prepare the meals, it’s only practical to share your loved one’s heart-healthy diet. That may go for activity, too. Whatever activity the doctor approves for the patient, you may want to share.
Physical activity can ease stress and lower the risk of depression. It can help both mood and motivation. If you’re already committed to daily exercise, keep it up. Walking, swimming, dancing, biking, can all be good options. If not, start with the action plan for an HF patient.
No matter how devoted you are to your loved one with HF, you could probably use some support yourself. But where do you go for help?
Sign up for the Keep It Pumping program,
including the Heart Failure Handbook
Seek out the many resources for caregivers from the American Heart Association at heart.org/caregiver (including downloads). You can also become a member of an AHA caregivers’ community at http://supportnetwork.heart.org
Explore the Caregiver Action Network (formerly the National Family Caregivers Association) at http://caregiveraction.org. They provide education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers across the country. Not disease-specific, this site has caregiver stories, videos, community forums, along with a collection of forms and tools you may find helpful
Join an in-person support group for caregivers through a well-regarded hospital in your area
Get help managing HF with how-tos from a low-salt diet to daily activity. Sign up
Track vital signs, link devices, manage treatment activities on your phone. Download
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