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Updated onJun. 09, 2022

Aging in Place with Heart Disease

Heart disease is a lifelong condition. Even if you’ve had surgery or other procedures to help with your blood flow, your arteries will remain damaged. Things may also get worse unless you make changes at home. However, a heart condition is not a death sentence—there are many concrete things you can do on your own to reclaim your life. Working with your doctor and adopting a heart healthy lifestyle can help you control heart disease, prevent a heart attack or stroke, and enjoy a long and fulfilling life.

What it Means to Have Heart Disease

Heart disease can describe a wide variety of conditions. This can include blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and congenital heart defects. The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term cardiovascular disease. The term “cardiovascular disease” applies to narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, are also considered forms of heart disease.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) often simply called heart disease, means that the arteries supplying blood to your heart muscle have become hardened and narrowed by plaque. This plaque builds up on their inner walls. Sometimes this plaque bursts, and a clot forms over it, obstructing blood flow and keeping oxygen and nutrients from getting to your heart—this is when a heart attack occurs.

If the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, your brain tissue can lose oxygen and nutrients. If that happens, brain cells begin to die within minutes. This is called a stroke. Strokes can be treated and prevented, but like heart attacks, prompt treatment is crucial.

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Healthy Blood Vessel Healthy Blood Vessel
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Blood Vessel with Plaque When plague builds up, blood flow can be restricted.
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Coronary Heart Disease An interrupted blood flow, which can eventually lead to a stroke.

Working With Your Doctor

Good communication with all of your healthcare professionals can go a long way in helping you feel better sooner. How carefully you stick to your treatment plan affects how well you respond to your medication and surgery. Your team may assume that you are following doctor’s orders perfectly. If you aren’t, having a clear and honest dialogue about the problems you’re having will help them to better help you.

Risk Factors

Ask your doctor about your specific risk factors and how to address them. If you have high levels low-density lipoprotein (LDL), one type of “bad” cholesterol, your goal should be to bring the level to below 100 mg/dL. Be sure to take your medication exactly as advised and tell your doctor right away if you have uncomfortable side effects. He or she may change the medication or dosage to address the issue.

Discuss OTC Medicines

In particular, ask your doctor whether aspirin is right for you. While studies have shown that low-dosage daily aspirin may prevent heart attacks and strokes, the FDA has not approved it to treat individuals who have never experienced these events. While you should educate yourself about your condition, be sure to get professional advice instead of self-medicating.

Depression

Social worker is visiting a senior woman

Tell your doctor if you are feeling depressed. This is a very common in heart disease, particularly in individuals with congestive heart failure. If you think that you may be experiencing unhealthy levels of depression or anxiety, make it known. Your doctor may prescribe helpful medication or refer you to a mental health provider.

If you think that you may be experiencing unhealthy levels of depression or anxiety, make it known.

Heart Disease Tests

After taking a careful look at your medical history and performing a physical examination, your doctor may give you one or more of the following tests:

  • A Stress test (or Treadmill test) records a heart’s electrical activity during exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike.
  • An Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) makes a graph of your heart’s electrical activity as it beats. An EKG can pick up abnormal heartbeats, blood flow issues in the arteries, heart muscle damage, and heart enlargement.
  • Nuclear scans (or thallium stress tests) show the working of the heart muscle as blood flows through the heart. After injecting a small amount of radioactive material into an arm vein, a camera shows how much is taken up by the heart muscle.
  • Coronary angiography (or angiogram or arteriography) X-rays the coronary arteries. This can reveal problems with blood flow or any blockages. After inserting a catheter (thin tube) in the artery of an arm or leg up into the heart, a dye is injected to observe the heart and vessels to be filmed as the heart pumps. A ventriculogram—a picture of the left ventricle of the heart—is sometimes taken as part of the coronary angiography procedure.
  • Echocardiography changes sound waves into pictures that show the heart’s size, shape, and movement. The sound waves also can be used to see how much blood is pumped out by the heart when it contracts.

Health

Staying Healthy With Heart Disease

Exercise is essential, but consult with your doctor first; depending on your diagnosis you may need to follow specific guidelines. Consider finding a gym with a personal trainer who can ensure you follow the proper exercise regiment for your health.

It’s not necessarily exercise, but don’t sit in one spot for too long at a time. For aging adults, sitting for long periods of time can increase a risk of blood clots in the legs. Experts say it’s important to move around throughout the day, so set yourself a reminder to get up and move around several times a day.

You may have to completely re-evaluate your eating habits. Consider taking a class in nutrition, or consulting a dietitian and/or nutritionist. Learn to cook so you can eat healthier and also be in control of your food. What you consider “treats” may become a potential health hazard, so find healthy, enjoyable substitutes to those cookies, candies, potato chips. Reduce your salt intake and replace unhealthy fats (trans fats) with healthy fats.

Keep track of your medical information and be honest with your doctor. There are home devices to monitor your blood pressure and heart rate, and you should have your cholesterol checked every few months.

Finally, get proper rest. Getting a good night’s sleep and letting your body properly recharge is part of keeping your heart healthy. Studies have shown that adults who get a good quality (7-8 hours) sleep have healthier arteries than those who don’t sleep soundly.

Treatment Tips

Eating a variety of healthy foods can make a huge difference in your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Reduce the salt, sugar, fat, and alcohol.

Depending on your health issues, your cardiologist may prescribe something to treat high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease itself. He or she may prescribe something for angina, the chest pain that often accompanies heart disease. Eating healthily can enable you to take the lowest doses as possible for of some of your medications.

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Advanced heart disease sometimes necessitates surgery to open an artery, improve blood flow, clear blockages, or alleviate significant chest pain. A coronary angioplasty (or “balloon” angioplasty) or coronary artery bypass graft (or bypass surgery) may make sense for you.

Good heart health means visiting your cardiologist and general practitioner regularly.

Good heart health means visiting your cardiologist and general practitioner regularly. Along with routine blood pressure and cholesterol checks, there are additional tests that can spot blood flow issues or heart muscle damage. Remember: though a doctor can prescribe medication and advise you on surgery options, how you live with your diagnosis is up to you.

Most risk factors for heart disease are in your hands: smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle

Living With Heart Disease

When it comes to health, everyone must work with the cards he or she is dealt. You cannot control your age, your family history, or whether or not you have already had a heart attack, stroke, or comorbidity like diabetes. But most risk factors for heart disease are in your hands: smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Make Healthy Food Choices

berry smoothie

Eating foods low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol that are also high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol. In practical terms, this means plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Watching your sugar can lower your blood sugar and prevent or help control diabetes. Whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, and lean cuts of poultry and meat are also part of a “heart healthy” repertoire.

Cholesterol

Understand the basics of “bad” and “good” cholesterol. HDL and LDL are the two main types of cholesterol (lipids, or blood fats) that make up your total cholesterol. HDL (high-density lipoproteins) is beneficial cholesterol. It can protect your body from narrowing blood vessels. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), however, worsens narrowing arteries. Another type of harmful cholesterol in the liver, VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) contains a high volume of triglycerides. While lots of medical jargon can go over your head, knowing these names will help you make healthy food choices and communicate more easily with health professionals.

Keep On Moving

Consistent physical activity makes a huge difference in heart function, weight control, blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels. It can also prevent depression and minimize stress. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily is associated with lower death rates from heart disease. For most adults, the Surgeon General recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. But first talk with your doctor about what types and duration of exercise are best for you. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease—or have even had surgery—moving vigorously may feel counterintuitive. But physical activity is an excellent way to prevent future heart problems.

Thirty minutes of moderate exercise daily is associated with lower death rates from heart disease.

Don’t Smoke

Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking wreaks havoc on heart and blood vessels and is linked to blood clots and high blood pressure.

Reduce Stress

Learn to recognize signs of stress in your life and practice lowering stress levels with meditation, yoga, or rhythmic breathing.

Attractive Happy Chinese Couple Enjoying Their House Outside.

Monitor Your Weight

Calculate your body mass index (BMI) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. 

Limit Your Drinking

Alcohol raises blood pressure. Women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, and men should limit themselves to two drinks.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

If appropriate, make use of cardiac rehabilitation. If you have survived a heart attack or undergone heart surgery, take advantage of any cardiac rehab available to you. These programs include safe and effective exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help you return to an active life. If your doctor does not discuss cardiac rehab with you, be proactive. Ask them and find out about programs nearby that might fit your needs.

Make A Plan

Prepare a heart attack survival plan at home. If you have heart disease, accept that you are at high risk for having a heart attack. Planning ahead will help you get treatment fast. Be sure that your family and caregivers know the warning signs and what to do if you should have a heart attack. Have a prepared list of medications you currently take, any medicines you are allergic to, and contact numbers for your doctor and family members in an emergency. Keep a copy at home, at work, and in your purse or bag.
 

The Main Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack For Both Men And Women Are:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes. It may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. The discomfort may be mild or severe, and it may come and go.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Angina

Angina is a pain or discomfort in the chest that occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. The pain may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest, or may also occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. While angina is not a heart attack per se, you are more likely to have one. Stable angina has a predictable pattern. It can result from emotional or physical stress and can be alleviated with medication or rest. Unstable angina, on the other hand, is irregular and a sign that a heart attack may be coming. If your pain does not go away within five minutes, call 911 immediately.

Time is of the essence with a heart attack or stroke. Even if you are unsure if you are having an emergency, calling 911 quickly can save your life. Clot-dissolving medications are the most effective within the first hour after a heart attack. When you get to the hospital, ask for tests that can show whether you are having a heart attack.

Warning Signs Of A Stroke Include:

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Face Drooping One side of the face may feel numb. A smile may look uneven or lopsided.
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Weakness or Numbness in One Arm When raising both arms, take note if one arm drifts downward.
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Speech Difficulty or Slurring A person having a stroke may be hard to understand or unable to speak. If you are with someone who may be having a stroke, ask him or her to repeat a simple sentence like “The sky is blue.” Someone having a stroke may not be able to correctly repeat the words.
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Trouble Seeing in One or Both Eyes You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or you may see double.
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Headache If it is severe and sudden, and you are vomiting or dizzy, this may indicate a stroke.
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Dizziness or Difficulty Walking You may stumble or experience sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.

If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and tell the operator that you think it is a stroke. Note the time when the first symptoms appeared. Emergency responders will want to know.

Either at home or in a medical setting, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re overreacting. You have the right to be thoroughly examined for a medical emergency.

Lifestyle Tips

Get Physical

Even a simple walk or a tai-chai class can help strengthen the muscle that is your heart. But be sure to consult with your doctor before you take on a more strenuous activity.

Find Community

No man is an island and it’s important to surround yourself with people who care about you. Finding a support group will go a long way to remind you that you are not alone. The American Heart Association has an online support network where you can connect with other heart disease patients from across the country, or right next door.

Stay Positive

Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t; what you can do, rather than what you can’t.

Reduce Stress

Learn ways to manage the stress and anxiety in your life. Introduce and practice breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Don’t Stop Living

Many people get overwhelmed and frustrated trying to change and monitor everything they do after a medical episode or diagnosis. Both depression and anxiety are highly linked to difficulty adhering to heart disease treatment plans. It is understandable that body changes and problematic symptoms could increase your worries and possibly lead to feeling discouraged.

Keep an open dialogue with your loved ones and educate them about your heart condition. Be willing to talk with them about your needs, concerns, and fears. A strong social support network not only lessens the challenges of living with heart disease, but improves your overall quality of life. Get involved in fun and enjoyable activities with the people around you. Encourage your spouse, partner, or caregiver to take time to relax and take care of himself or herself as well.

senior woman doing water aerobics

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you shouldn’t feel any different inside than you did before that first medical appointment. But with careful planning, open communication, and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, you can enjoy many happy years at home.

Caregiving Tips

Educate, Educate, Educate

The internet offers a variety of information, free recipes, and resources for family and caregivers. For families taking on caregiving aspects, knowledge is key to supporting and caring for a loved one with heart disease.

Use Medicare’s Online Tool

Medicare offers certified Home Health agencies available in your area.

Create A List of Needs

Outline and determine your needs and expectations before contacting an in-home care provider. That way you can reduce unnecessary surprises.

Use the Community Resource Finder

The Community Resource Finder offers a wide array of resources, community programs, and services in your local area.

Facts on Heart Disease

  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year.
  • One in every four deaths is the U.S. is linked to heart disease.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. 
  • A woman’s heart disease risk rises at age 55. A man’s risk increases at age 45.
  • Coronary heart disease is the leading cause (43.8%) of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease in the U.S. followed by stroke (16.8%), heart failure (9.0%), high blood pressure (9.4%), diseases of the arteries (3.1%), and other cardiovascular diseases (17.9%).
  • About 735,000 Americans each year have a heart attack. This is a first heart attack for 525,000 of them and a repeat attack for the remaining 210,000.
  • Cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 836,546 deaths in the United States. That’s about 1 of every 3 deaths in the country.
  • On average, one person dies of cardiovascular disease every 38 seconds. Roughly 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day.
  • About 92.1 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke.
  • Direct and indirect costs of total cardiovascular diseases and stroke add up to over $329.7 billion in the U.S. That includes both health expenditures and lost productivity.
  • About 75 million American adults (32%) have high blood pressure— 1 in every 3 adults. Only about half (54%) of them have their condition under control.
  • 71 million American adults (33.5%) have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol. Only 1 out of every 3 adults with high LDL cholesterol has the condition under control.

Technology Resources

Smart Phone Apps

According to the AARP there are half a dozen heart apps for your phone and other mobile devices to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Smart Watches

While Apple currently rules the market on smart watches, their competitors are picking up the slack and it won’t be long before there’ll be a variety of smart watches to monitor your health—from heart rate and blood pressure to exercise, fall detection, and calling for help in case of an emergency.

Smart Items For the Home

There are so many devices for the home that not only make life easier but are also beneficial to seniors living with heart disease. And when you have limitations placed on your activities, these devices come in handy. From a self adjusting thermostat, to a robot vacuum, to a scale that will help you keep in line with your diet, there are many devices available for you to consider.