The Caregiver’s Role in Recovery
Heart patients count on medical experts, nurses, and rehabilitation staff to be with us on our journey to heart health. Often our friends and family are with us too—listening to our diagnoses, reviewing test results, waiting for us after surgery, picking up medications, and doing so much more. Caregivers help us cope with new or evolving health issues and get well. This section covers ways that caregivers can stay strong, healthy, and positive throughout this journey.
Heart disease is no doubt unfamiliar territory for many caregivers. This HeartGuide will help you, as a caregiver, get familiar with this new world and what your loved ones can expect before and after treatment. As a partner with the patient and medical staff, you can listen and learn alongside your loved one as they go through this process.
Acknowledge Your Experiences
Caregivers to heart patients may be affected physically and emotionally by this experience. It’s frightening when a loved one gets this diagnosis. And suddenly being around machines and health professionals in a busy medical setting can be stressful.
All of this can create feelings of anxiety and depression or resentment at the disruption to your life. You may at times feel guilty, thinking you are somehow responsible for your loved one’s heart condition.
We’ve experienced these issues too and gotten past them with time and support. If you think counseling would alleviate any of these feelings, ask your health team for a referral. Ask questions. Don’t go it alone.
We can become overprotective of loved ones in heart recovery. Our mission becomes protecting them from further harm. These sentiments are also normal, but can cause feelings of anger, frustration, and worthlessness if the patient cannot live up to our expectations. So try to understand the recovery process and be there for support, but don’t overdo it. Balance your love and support with a willingness to step back and let your family member chart his or her own course to heart health.
Know that You Can Make a Difference
After treatment, every heart patient receives recovery information about diet, exercise, medication, and activities. One essential role is to sift through that information so that instructions are understood and followed.
Part of this process is having an honest conversation about changes in responsibilities and roles in your household regarding budgets, chores, child care, and other tasks. Together, talking about solutions to potential problems can help you manage well as a family.
Every family has its own way of handling a heart diagnosis and the recovery process. Each family has its own support system. For many, it helps to think positively and not assume or assign blame for anyone’s heart condition. If possible, accompany the patient during health care office visits—together, you will learn and hear more. Write down your questions in advance. If you plan well and look forward to the future with confidence, you’ll get through it, together.
10 Tips for Effective Caregiving
- Talk to other caregivers at a Mended Hearts support meeting.
- Stay healthy.
- Accept offers of help and suggest ways people can help you.
- Start a journal and write down questions for your health care team.
- Take breaks.
- Watch for signs of depression.
- Be open to using technology to help you care for your loved one.
- Organize care documents.
- Get legal documents in order.
- Thank yourself for doing a challenging job well.
From the Caregiver Action Network at www.caregiveraction.org/resources/ten-tips.
Be Involved: Questions for Your Health Care Team About Caregiving
- What are the most important things I can do to support my loved one’s recovery?
- What should I expect to happen in the weeks and months ahead?
- What appointments will need to be scheduled?
- What if I become stressed out or lost? What support is available to me?
- I feel so isolated and that no one understands what I’m going through. Where do I turn?