Get tips from an expert on caring for a loved one with heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 3 (or around 80 million) U.S. adults currently live with at least one type of heart disease. Heart disease results in more than 72 million doctor visits annually for Americans who require treatment and management of their condition, including assistance from a caregiver through what can be a prolonged and unpredictable illness.

According to the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses, 1.6 million heart failure patients have a caregiver in their homes to help with daily tasks and coordinate physician visits. Congestive heart failure (CHF), during which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen, is a condition that patients and caregivers can effectively control with medication.

However, maintaining a regimented medication schedule and ensuring that your loved one takes the proper dosage of medications at the prescribed time is crucial, as CHF is one of the leading causes of readmissions to hospitals, according to the Medicare program.

In addition to diligently monitoring medications, you’ll want to observe and keep record of symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath, excessive fluid retention, decreased appetite and confusion. Daily weight checks are important; if your loved one gains a few pounds over a day, this should be reported to a health care professional to see if an increase in diuretics is needed. Encourage them to quit smoking, maintain daily activity/exercise, and adopt a balanced, heart-healthy diet that curtails high-sodium foods like processed meats. Foods such as fish and chia seeds that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to heart health. In addition, blood pressure should be checked routinely. A portable pulse oximeter can also be used to monitor the percentage of your patients blood that is saturated with oxygen.

Emotional health also shouldn’t be neglected, both in addressing symptoms of depression from your loved one and managing your own stress while dealing with your various commitments. As a caregiver, you should never be afraid to ask for help and support. Advancements in this area are available through the numerous home health agencies in each state that offer telemonitoring (telehealth) of some symptoms of heart failure. Call your local agency to inquire about this technology.It can provide another level of assurance for the patient and also for you as a caregiver.

Helping someone have a better quality of life while dealing with a heart condition can make it all worthwhile for the loved one, for you and for the family as well. A well-balanced life should always be the goal.

Karen L. Talbott, MS, CPA, FHHC, is the retired President of Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates, Ohios largest comprehensive home health care system, along with a 171-bed skilled nursing facility. She was previously a client service executive with Ernst & Young, specializing in the health care industry with primary focus on hospitals and home health care. She is also a Fellow of Hospice and Home Care, one of only a few thus designated in the U.S. by the National Association for Home Care.