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Living With Senior Heart Disease And Stroke: A Family Affair

Seniors and other adults recovering from a heart attack or stroke—and their families—face many new physical and emotional challenges and feelings of uncertainty. If you find yourself in this situation, you do not need to feel alone. Many resources are available to help patients and families cope and gain hope in the midst of the physical and psychological obstacles commonly encountered in the wake of a stroke or heart attack.

For family caregivers the key is not being afraid to ask for help. The American Stroke Association (ASA) on its Web site, www.strokeassociation.org, says that in many cases friends, relatives and neighbors do not step up to offer help because they do not want to seem like they are intruding. Or they are under the mistaken impression that just because you have not asked for help, you have everything under control.

It is unhealthy for family caregivers to take on the responsibility alone, the ASA advises. Plus, having others come in to help and visit can boost the spirits of the person being cared for.

The ASA recommends that family caregivers carefully define their needs—whether it is occasional respite care or regular assistance—and develop an organized plan for how others can help with the major areas of caregiving:

  • Personal care
  • Housekeeping
  • Meal preparation
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Medical care/supervision
  • Recreation
  • Shopping
  • Daily supervision and companionship

Families can find help through professional in-home care providers, an informal network of friends and relatives, as well as church and community organizations—or any combination of these sources.

Support Groups

Support groups are another valuable asset, as no one knows better what you are facing than someone who has been there before. Support groups offer the riches of experience, helping save families from some of the trials and errors members of the support group made.

Stroke Recovery Canada is a national service offering post-recovery support, education and community integration programs for stroke survivors, their caregivers, families and health care providers. Through its work with local peer support groups across the country, Stroke Recovery Canada provides Canadians with the resources needed to survive and thrive. You can learn more at their website: http://www.marchofdimes.ca/dimes/national_programs/national_programs/src/.

On its Web site, www.familydoctor.org, the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests ways that families can help a loved one who is recovering from stroke:

  • Take advantage of hospital-sponsored classes for stroke survivors and families, if available in your area.
  • Attend rehabilitation sessions with your loved one. This way you can learn how to support your loved one’s rehabilitation at home.
  • Inform the rehabilitation staff of your loved one’s needs and interests so they can shape the rehabilitation program accordingly.
  • Learn from your loved one’s health care providers what he or she is capable of doing alone or with help, and what he or she cannot do at all. This prevents you from doing too much for your loved one, allowing him or her to regain confidence and independence as much as possible.

Senior Heart Disease and Depression

Frustration and depression are common problems following heart attacks, heart surgery and stroke. According to the Academy of Family Physicians, as many as one of every three people who have a heart attack reports feelings of depression. Many don’t seek treatment for depression, making physical recovery more difficult.

The Mended Hearts Web site states, “Research over the past two decades has shown that depression and heart disease are common companions and, what is worse, each can lead to the other. Therefore, it is very important for a heart patient to discuss his or her concerns with the family physician.”

The Academy of Family Physicians recommends treatment for depression and adds that physical, social and recreational activities can play an important role in improving the moods of those recovering from heart disease. Family and professional caregivers can promote this, helping patients return to their favorite activities. Rehabilitation programs also benefit patients mentally as well as physically.

For more information on life after a heart attack, heart surgery or stroke, visit the “For Caregivers” section of the American Heart Association Web site, www.americanheart.org as well as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, http://www.heartandstroke.com and Stroke Recovery Canada,http://www.marchofdimes.ca/dimes/national_programs/national_programs/src/.

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