Supportive Care Bulletin
Helpful tips for family caregivers
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, now is a good time to consider ways to take care of your romantic partnership in the midst of also caring for a relative or friend. And in another matter of the heart, we offer a context for understanding common emotional and physical reactions following a heart attack. Last, we provide you with tips to help a person with dementia concentrate during mealtime. Salud!
Caregiving and your partner
Emotional stress, physical fatigue, reduced leisure time, financial draws, and loss of privacy are just a few of the domestic pressures noted in a Caregiving.com survey. But some couples in the survey also reported feeling a benefit: Caregiving prompted a new kind of teamwork that actually strengthened their relationship.
Here are some tips:
Strive for balance. You may feel a debt of gratitude to a parent, but recognize also that your marriage is your future. Arrange your caregiving so your partner doesn’t feel like he or she is always the last priority. Regularly discuss your shared values and how they fit into your life as a couple.
What makes your partner feel loved? You probably know intuitively: Quality time together? Physical affection? A love note? A small gift? Handling a chore or errand? (HINT: What does he or she tend to do for you? That’s usually a clue.) Build trust and dedication with weekly gestures of love.
Time together is essential. In most families, one adult child takes on the main caregiver role. If that’s you, make it clear to your siblings that you won’t sacrifice your marriage. Create time for your relationship by asking your siblings for
- respite (spending some of their vacation time taking care of mom);
- help with chores (handling the checkbook, keeping the car in good condition);
- financial assistance, so you can hire help.
Have a Plan B
Watch for signs of distress. If your partner is arguing, drinking more, overeating, or coming home later, a change is in order. Consider
- hiring in-home care;
- having your relative live in an assisted living facility;
- moving your relative to live with a different family member.
A care manager can help you look at options and/or talk with family members about a change in the sharing of the care.Return to top
After a heart attack
A heart attack is a frightening, life-changing event that affects the entire family.
Emotional reactions. The most common reaction is fear or worry about the possibility of another heart attack. Although those who have had a heart attack are at higher risk for having another, only 18% of heart attack patients actually go back to the hospital in the first month.
Depression is very common. One-third of heart attack survivors experience depression. This can drain the patient of the motivation to follow through with needed medical and lifestyle changes. If you suspect depression in your relative, talk to the doctor. Depression can be treated. Provide support, too, by arranging for pleasurable activities. The goal is to get back to a more normal life (rather than life as a patient). Maybe watching children play at a nearby park or seeing a movie at the theater.
Other emotional reactions include anger or frustration, especially at the beginning, when tasks that used to be easy prove to be difficult or tiring.
Mental reactions. Many patients complain of fuzzy thinking. This usually clears up in time. For the first few weeks after the heart attack, though, don’t expect your relative to buzz through the crossword puzzle.
Common physical reactions include fatigue and shortness of breath, palpitations (a fluttery heart beat), and sleep problems. Don’t hesitate to check in with the doctor if you have questions or concerns.
When to get help. If your loved one experiences the following symptoms, the American Heart Association suggests contacting medical personnel right away:
- Chest pain, tightness, pressure or pain in the arms, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Pale, sweaty skin
- Very fast or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling or pain in the legs
- Sudden, overwhelming fatigue
Mealtime and dementia
The effects of dementia include changes to the way foods taste and smell. A person with Alzheimer’s or other memory disorder may become unable to recognize foods or to know if he or she is hungry or full. Even the seemingly simple mechanics of fork and spoon or chewing and swallowing often become too complicated.
Make the environment supportive. Confusion dulls the appetite, so aim to keep things streamlined and unhurried.
- Eat with your relative. This sets an example that it is time to eat.
- Simplify the setting. A cluttered table can be confusing. Your relative may not be able to distinguish between a food and a decoration.
- Reduce unnecessary noise. Turn off the TV/radio. Put the kibosh on emotional or loud conversations.
- Use contrasting colors. Changes in visual-spatial perception are common with dementia. Avoid mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white tablecloth!
Keep the menu simple.
- Plan for small, frequent meals. It’s difficult for people with dementia to sit for long.
- Serve just one food at a time. Pick the most nutritious course and put it on a small plate. If your loved one leaves the table, at least he or she has eaten the most important part of the meal.
- Check the temperature of the food before serving. Your loved one may no longer know what’s too hot.
- Stay flexible. What your relative ate eagerly yesterday may not appeal today. Don’t take it personally! Sensitivity to smells and textures can make for picky eating. Offer an alternative. Or wait a half-hour and try again.
- Support self-feeding. Cut foods to bite size before serving. Provide finger food when possible. (Remember to wash your relative’s hands carefully before and after!)
If your family member seems consistently disinterested in eating, consult with the doctor. Some medications affect appetite. And dental issues can make chewing painful.Return to top