Heart failure affects millions of seniors
According to the American Heart Association, about 5.7 million Americans are living with heart failure. It’s one of the most common reasons why people age 65+ go to the hospital.
Because so many older adults are affected, it’s important for caregivers to be aware of heart failure symptoms and find out how to help seniors stay active and enjoy their lives as much as possible.
We explain what heart failure is, common symptoms, and 6 ways to support seniors with heart failure.
What is heart failure?
Heart failure means the heart is weakened and isn’t pumping as well as it should be. A common type is congestive heart failure (CHF).
When the heart isn’t pumping well, the kidneys respond by causing the body to retain water and salt. When fluid builds up, the body becomes “congested,” which is why it’s called congestive heart failure.
The body depends on the heart to deliver oxygen and nutrients via the blood to nourish the cells. That allows the body to function normally.
When an older adult has heart failure, the weakened heart can’t supply the cells with enough blood. This causes fatigue, shortness of breath, and sometimes coughing. Everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries can become very difficult.
Common heart failure symptoms
One sign of heart failure might not be a reason to worry. But if you notice multiple symptoms, even if your older adult hasn’t been diagnosed with heart problems, it’s a good idea to ask their doctor to evaluate their heart and overall health.
Common heart failure symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath: difficulty breathing while lying flat, need to prop up the upper body and head on more pillows, waking up tired, or feeling anxious and restless
- Persistent coughing or wheezing: coughing that produces white or pink mucus
- Buildup of fluid in the body (edema): swelling in feet, ankles, legs or abdomen or weight gain
- Tiredness, fatigue: a tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities like carrying groceries or climbing stairs
- Lack of appetite, nausea: a feeling of being full or sick to the stomach
- Confusion, impaired thinking: memory loss and feeling disorientated caused by changing levels of substances in the blood, like sodium
- Increased heart rate: feel like their heart is racing or throbbing
6 ways to support seniors with heart failure
Following doctor’s orders and learning more about heart failure enables you to help your older adult enjoy the best possible quality of life.
- Make lasting lifestyle changes like switching to a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, and limiting salt
- Make sure medication is taken as prescribed, watch for side effects, and report negative effects to the doctor ASAP
- Connect older adults with sources of emotional support like heart failure support groups, social workers, or therapists – all these are helpful for caregivers too!
- Prevent serious conditions like flu and pneumonia with annual vaccines
- Consider palliative care to help manage symptoms and get advice on tough decisions
- Schedule annual heart failure reviews with their doctor to discuss how well they’re doing, current treatment goals, and how they wish to be treating during a possible emergency (like kidney failure or heart attack)
Recommended for you:
- 7 Tips for Helping Seniors at the Doctor: Being a Health Advocate
- Palliative Care Improves Seniors’ Quality of Life
- Recognize Signs of Stroke and Act F.A.S.T.