Eight Ways to Help a Parent with Coronary Heart Disease
Elderly heart patients who have a strong support system are better able to stay positive, tolerate medication side effects and recover after surgery
Here's the scenario:
Your elderly mother goes to the doctor to get some medication for an indigestion problem that just won't go away. The doctor tells her that she's had a mild heart attack, and the "indigestion" is something called angina pectoris--a warning sign that another heart attack is possible.
After completing a stress test in which radioactive material is injected into her vein, Mom is scheduled to have a cardiac catheterization and told she might have to undergo coronary angioplasty with stenting or coronary bypass surgery as well. She leaves the office dazed, depressed, and with a fistful of prescriptions, a bag full of medication samples, and a mind full of questions.
Here's how you, the adult child, can help:
1) Partner with your parent's doc. Actively participate in your parent's health care by going to appointments with him or her. Bring a pen and pad for notes.
2) Be a reader. Busy doctors often use shorthand to describe heart disease to patients. Get educated on it by reading high-quality, current literature about heart disease, how it develops, what causes it, and how to halt its progression.
3) Question authority. If your doctor recommends a string of diagnostic tests, discuss the pros and cons of each test, its accuracy, and whether or not it's needed. This may be especially relevant if your parent has poor insurance.
4) Beware the pharma-zombie. It's not unusual for the doc to prescribe five or six different medications for heart disease and its symptoms. Learn the purpose and necessity of each one, side effects, medical interactions, and proper dosage for your parent's gender and age. Don't let Mom or Dad become a med zombie.
5) Choose your surgeon well. If you, your parent, and the doctor determine that surgery is the right option, find a hospital with a high volume of cardiac surgeries, and a surgeon with lots of experience. Most states provide online information regarding hospitals' and individual surgeons' experience for cardiac surgery.
6) Maximize the surgery. For the first few weeks after surgery, make sure your parent eats healthfully, takes short, regular walks, keeps surgical incisions dry, does his or her breathing exercises, watches for a persistent cough, and wears support hose to minimize feet swelling.
7) Be a cheerleader. Remind Mom or Dad that advances in medicine and surgery have doubled the survival rate for people with coronary heart disease in the past ten years. Heart patients can live a long, healthy life when they lose weight, lower their cholesterol, get regular exercise, and stop smoking. Having a supportive adult child is key to a parent's success.
8) Be your parent's "health elf." If your parent was a cigarette-smoking, junk-food addicted couch potato, help him or her get into a new routine. Grocery shopping with a parent is good exercise. Buy a stationery bike to put in the TV room. Make "health dates" (walking, cooking, eating, swimming, dancing) to reinforce the fun and delightful aspects of healthy living.
Jerome E. Granato, MD, FACC, is Medical Director of the Coronary Care Unit of Allegheny General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Drexel College of Medicine. His new book is Living with Coronary Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press).