Caring for an Aging Parent With Heart Failure

Unfortunately, a relatively commonplace affliction of a senior parent receiving caregiving assistance from an adult child is heart failure. In reality, caregiving for a parent diagnosed with heart failure can be particularly stressful and, at times, even a scary experience. If you are the child of a senior parent diagnosed with heart failure and you will be assisting with certain caregiving tasks, you undoubtedly have many questions.

Of course, your senior parent’s primary care physician or cardiologist is your primary resource to obtain reliable information about heart failure. This article is prepared and presented to provide general information about caregiving for a senior diagnosed with heart failure.

What Is Heart Failure

In our discussion of caring for an aging parent with heart failure, we start with the basics:

What is heart failure?

In very basic terms, heart failure is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. When the heart fails, the body’s organs don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly.

In some instances, a person’s heart cannot pump blood through the body with enough force. In other situations, the heart does not fill up with enough blood. Both of these serious scenarios result in what can prove to be a serious interruption of blood flow through the circulatory system.

Heart failure can affect only one side of a person’s heart. With that noted, the condition ultimately impacts both sides in most cases of heart failure.

Heart Failure and Congestive Heart Failure Are Not Interchangeable

With regularity, the terms “heart failure” and “congestive heart failure” are used interchangeably. The fact is that heart failure, and congestive heart failure are not synonymous.

Congestive heart failure is a specific type of heart failure. Congestive heart failure medically is classified as a very serious condition.

Congestive heart failure occurs when the circulatory system is so compromised that blood and other fluids gather in certain areas of the body. This gathering of blood and other fluids results in what is medically known as the congesting of tissues. This congesting of tissues can result in what is known as edema or swelling) of the lower extremities, the abdomen, and even around the lungs. When fluid collects around the heart, lungs, and other internal organs, serious symptoms can arise. A person in such a situation must be monitored closely.

What Are the Stages of Heart Failure

If you are the caregiver for a senior diagnosed with heart failure, you need to have a general understanding of the stages of this serious medical condition.

Class A Heart Failure

A person who has Class A heart failure is not at all likely to exhibit any symptoms. In other words, a senior with this type or level of heart failure is not likely to realize he or she has this condition. In addition, despite having Class A heart failure, a senior with this level of heart disease will not likely experience any limitations in regard to activities.

With this noted, there are certain categories of individuals who are at a higher risk of developing Class A heart failure. These include people who:

  • Smoke
  • Abuse alcohol
  • Eat a high-fat diet
  • Have a family history of heart problems
  • Have diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure or hypertension

Physicians who suspect seniors might have Stage A heart failure Doctors will likely order cholesterol and C-reactive protein blood tests. They may also order chest x-rays or electrocardiogram tests to confirm the diagnosis of Stage A heart failure.

Because patients do not show any symptoms at this stage, seniors can continue to maintain an active lifestyle. Becoming more physically active (as they are able), as well as quitting smoking and lowering or discontinuing alcohol use, may help to slow the progress of heart failure.

A senior diagnosed with Class A heart failure usually needs to monitor and manage blood pressure and cholesterol. This is necessary in order to prevent further cardiovascular damage. They may also be prescribed medication and lifestyle changes by their primary care physician or a cardiologist.

Stage B Heart Failure

When a senior is diagnosed with Class B heart failure, there will be some evidence of cardiovascular disease. A senior is apt to show mild symptoms. There may also be some more minimal limitations during ordinary activities. However, a senior with Class B heart failure should be comfortable at rest.

Doctors will want to continue monitoring a senior’s blood pressure regularly. A doctor may order additional chest x-rays, electrocardiograms, blood tests, and echocardiograms to aid in the diagnosis. Stress tests, MRIs, or CT scans may also be required as part of the diagnostic process.

When a Stage B heart failure diagnosis is made, more aggressive medications may be prescribed by a doctor. These medications are designed to keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. These medications might include ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. In some circumstances, doctors may discuss possible surgical options for coronary artery repair and heart valve replacement or repair.

Seniors with Class B heart failure usually can remain fairly active. They may experience some shortness of breath more frequently than was the case previously. As a result, seniors with Class B heart failure will need to be mindful not to over-exert. Moderate physical activity at this stage may still help slow the progression of heart failure.

Class C Heart Failure

A senior afflicted with Class C heart failure shows increasing evidence of moderate to severe cardiovascular disease. With Class C heart failure, a senior encounter apparent limitations in their daily routine due to their symptoms. Ordinary activities result in fatigue, heart palpitations, or labored breathing. A senior with Class C heart failure patient typically is comfortable only while resting.

The same diagnostic tests used for classes A and B heart failure are utilized to diagnose Class C heart failure as well. Doctors may also request coronary angiograms or myocardial biopsies to diagnose or rule out certain types of heart muscle diseases. In addition to the treatment options described above, doctors may also recommend cardiac resynchronization therapy, better known to the public at large as a pacemaker. A doctor may also recommend the use of implantable defibrillators.

Oftentimes, seniors with Class C heart failure find that they are unable to be very active because of their symptoms. A senior with a Class C heart failure diagnosis need to discuss safe exercise options with a doctor.

Class D Heart Failure

A person with class D heart failure shows objective symptoms of severe cardiovascular disease. A person with Class D heart failure experiences significant limitations on activities. Unlike the previous three stages of heart failure discussed previously, people with Class D will continue experiencing symptoms even while at rest.

Treatment options for advanced heart failure are growing and may include such things as implantable defibrillators or mechanical heart pumps.

In some cases, different types of open-heart surgery are also considered for treating some Class D heart failure patients. Unfortunately, many seniors are not considered good candidates for open-heart surgery.

If you are the adult child of a senior parent and worry that your mother or father may be showing some signs of heart failure, prompt consultation with your parent’s physician is in order. If your senior parent seems to exhibit worsening symptoms of previously diagnosed heart failure, an immediate appointment with a cardiologist may be in order.