Your loved one has just been diagnosed with heart failure. This alone is an overwhelming experience. You and your loved one—your partner, sibling, parent, child, a friend or other family member—may not know what to do or where to go from here. But fear not. There are plenty of resources and support communities available to help your loved one navigate their new normal.
You may wonder what your role is in all of this. There are plenty of ways to help your loved one feel at ease and adjust to living with heart failure. Your loved one may have to undergo major lifestyle changes like eating a more balanced diet, getting regular exercise and going on medication.
Disparities in Cardiac Care
Still today, Black patients face institutional bias in accessing lifesaving cardiac care, thus often resulting in worse health outcomes than white patients.
“Black patients are dying from heart failure at considerably higher rates than white patients,” writes Dr. Alanna Morris, associate professor of Medicine at Emory University, and Robert Blum, the Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. “Heart failure is itself an epidemic, and the fact that it so disproportionately impacts Black patients is a national tragedy … We can no longer be patient in addressing long standing racial inequities facing patients who are Black men and women struggling with heart failure.”
With this in mind, it’s all the more important to provide care and support to your loved one as they navigate their new life with heart failure. There are a variety of ways in which you can extend your support. Whether you’re offering a shoulder to lean on, managing their medical care or helping around the house, you can have a profound effect on your loved one’s heart failure journey.
1. Provide emotional support
As a friend, partner or family member, being a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on can be incredibly impactful. People living with heart failure often report feeling like a burden to the people who are taking care of them. Feelings of guilt are also common, as heart failure can limit activity and thus opportunities to share time with loved ones.
By being there to lift your loved one’s spirits through the emotional ups and downs of this journey, the comfort you give can be powerful. Check in on your loved one. Let them know they are not alone. Acknowledge their feelings. Your support has the potential to positively impact your loved one’s health outcome by helping them adjust to a new heart-healthy lifestyle.
2. Shoulder caregiving duties
If you have the capacity to take on a caregiving role, your impact on your loved one’s heart failure journey is immeasurable. Your responsibilities as a caregiver include helping your loved one monitor their health and adjust to a heart-healthy lifestyle following a heart failure diagnosis. You are effectively a part of their healthcare team.
Caring for a loved one with heart failure is already a formidable task. It can be challenging not only physically but emotionally. As a partner, child or other family member, you will step into new roles—home maintenance, administrative support, medical care, etc.—to assist your loved one. This is a long-term commitment that is ever-changing, but do your best to make time for yourself and enjoy life. Caregivers need love too! Check out the American Heart Association’s Resources for Caregivers for helpful resources to aid you on your journey.
3. Find opportunities to connect and share
Finding a great support group can be invaluable to a person living with heart failure. Help your loved one research a local or online community to connect with. Whether they are people who are also affected by a chronic condition like heart failure or like minded folks who share a common interest, this sense of belonging can help your loved one feel less alone.
Find local heart patient support groups through Mended Hearts. Or find support on the web. Check out the AHA’s online forum or Heart-Failure.net, which is a great platform for relevant and relatable articles about living with heart failure. Another great way to connect is by joining a local fitness group like Black Men Run or Black Girls Run. Being around communities that promote healthy routines can also be a fun way to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle.
4. Get healthy together
Another impactful way to support your loved one’s HF journey is to adopt a healthier lifestyle together. Regular exercise and a low-sodium diet are fundamental to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Get active, go on walks. Discover a new activity that will keep you both moving.
Check your sodium intake. Try new recipes and flavors to try in the kitchen. Have fun with it. By cooking at home, you can control the level of salt in your food. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor for a balanced meal. There are plenty of delicious low or no sodium spice blends available today. (Check out Home Beis or SoulFitGrill to start.) It might be fun to do this together, and you will both benefit from a healthy lifestyle.
5. Take care of yourself
Through the peaks and valleys of your loved one’s heart failure journey, don’t forget to check in with yourself. Especially if you’ve stepped into a caregiving role, it’s important to maintain your own physical and mental health. Caregivers need support too. Beyond caring for your loved one and managing your regular work and family responsibilities, make time to enjoy life and have some fun.