I’m caring for someone with a heart condition or stroke
Heart disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the structure and functions of the heart. A heart attack happens suddenly when one of the arteries leading to the heart becomes blocked and cuts off the blood flow. Heart failure, which happens more gradually, is when a person’s heart function becomes weaker and the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body. If your loved one had a heart attack, they may require a lot of support at first, which may lessen over time as they recover. If your family member is experiencing heart failure, the level of care they require may increase over time.
A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of the brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done, which will also affect the type and level of support your loved one requires.
You may need to schedule medical, physiotherapy, and speech therapy appointments, drive your family member to appointments, arrange home care visits, and do more tasks around the house such as cooking meals and cleaning.
- Ask for help from your family and friends for tasks like driving your loved to appointments and grocery shopping. Often people want to help but just don’t know how to
- After a heart attack or stroke, it’s important your loved one doesn’t try to do too much. Help monitor their activities and ensure they rest often
- Encourage healthy lifestyle choices, including proper nutrition and exercise. Check with your family member’s medical team to determine when they can start exercising and what kind of activities they can do
Personal care and physical support
In the early stages of recovery after a heart attack or in the later stages of heart failure, your family member may need your help with personal care. After a stroke, your family member may experience physical difficulties, particularly in the arm, leg and face on one side of the body, requiring ongoing care and support.
You may need to help them:
- walk or move around with a walker or wheelchair
- get in and out of the tub or shower or give sponge baths in bed
- get into or out of a bed or chair or help them turn or roll over in bed
- use the toilet or bedpans or change incontinence pads
- brush their teeth, keep lips moist or rinse their mouth
- wash their hair, moisturize skin and trim their nails
- Determine what you are and aren’t comfortable doing. Get help for the tasks you aren’t comfortable with
- Look into what home care services are available where you live. Home care staff can help with bathing and also teach you tasks like how to turn someone in bed
- Be sure to ask about getting assistive devices such as a walker, lift, wheelchair, shower chair, grab bar or portable commode
Help with food and eating
If your family member had a stroke, they may have difficulty swallowing, which will require specialized food and possibly assistance with eating.
- Plan for food that is softer or smoother, such as porridge, apple sauce, and mashed potatoes; chop or mince food into smaller pieces; puree food in a blender
- When eating, have your family member sit up straight in a bed or chair
- Have your family member take small bites. Try using a teaspoon rather than a tablespoon
- They should chew each mouthful thoroughly before swallowing
- Small, frequent meals may be easier to eat and digest
- Ask an occupational therapist or dietician about assistive devices, such as dishes with gripper pads, cutting utensils made for one-hand use and modified cups
A stroke may cause your loved one to have difficulty communicating, which is called aphasia. It’s important to remember that difficulty with language does not mean difficulty with thinking.
- Phrase questions so they can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or a nod or shake of the head. Limit the number of choices to two
- Speak in a natural voice. Pauses and speaking at a moderate pace may help them understand you
- Have only one person speak at a time
- Work with your speech-language pathologist to learn more about what low to high tech augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices exist.
Medical care support
You may be responsible for giving and storing medicines. This includes giving the correct dose of medicine and keeping track of when medicine was given. If you are not comfortable administering medication, look into what home care services are available in your area or consult with your local pharmacist. As a caregiver, you may also need to communicate with your care recipient’s health care team.
- Write down questions to ask before appointments; listen and write down information during appointments
- Ask the health care team how you can assist with things like preparing proper and nutritious food, an exercise plan, and more
- Ask your local pharmacists for tips on how you can safely manage administering medication
You might need to help your loved one deal with their emotions and talk through difficult decisions that have to be made about care and treatment.
- Encourage them to share their feelings with you. Let them know it’s OK to express fears and concerns about what is happening
- Keep them company. Just being there can be comforting. Talk, watch movies together or listen to music
- Use touch when you can’t find the words. A squeeze of the hand or a gentle hug can say a lot
- Connect with the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada at heartandstroke.ca or call 1-888-473-4636
- Find additional resources about caring for someone with mobility issues
- See also, I’m caring for someone with a chronic illness
- See also, medical interventions and end-of-life care
- Connect with other young caregivers in our online peer support group or be part of the conversation in our online forum
*Source: Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada