Heart to heart advice for families and caregivers


By Angela Rocheleau

February is National Heart Month and here are a few interesting facts to ponder. Every year since its congressional approval in 1963, the president has issued a proclamation to help raise public awareness of heart disease. Even though most people associate heart disease with men, it’s also the leading cause of death among women.

Did you know that your heart beats 36 million times every year? If you live to be 70, that means your heart will have done over 2.5 billion heartbeats.

But, sometimes the heart has a problem. Having heart disease can be a frightening experience. For most people living with it, it is a chronic condition, one that will continue for many years. During this time a supportive and helpful caregiver can make an enormous difference.

Caregivers, whether they live in the same building, around the block or out of state, need access to information, training and support on preventing heart attacks and creating a heart-healthy environment for their loved ones. Professional organizations and services are available to help.

Knowing what causes heart disease will help prevent the disease. A caregiver must be aware of the contributing factors that can lead to the disease such as stress, poor eating habits and modern living styles.

Other risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and physical inactivity are the leading causes of heart disease. One of the best things people can do for the heart is to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Here are some healthy heart tips from the American Heart Association:

•Alcohol use in moderation: One to two drinks a day for men, one drink for women.

•30 minutes of exercise five days a week.

•Keep blood pressure below 140/90.

•Keep LDL cholesterol below 100 for patients at high risk of heart attack.

•LDL cholesterol below 70 for patients considered at especially high risk of heart attack.

To help reduce the risk of getting high blood pressure, take the following steps:

•Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods; and low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. This may also help keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

•Exercise regularly;

•Maintain a healthy weight;

•If you smoke, quit.

It is disturbing that in this day of accessible information, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. In 2009, an estimated 785,000 Americans had a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 will have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and about one American will die from one every minute. Those are scary facts.

The good news is that being heart-wise and approaching a heart-healthy lifestyle could prevent much of this. Learn how you can prevent heart attacks by checking with national and regional organizations such as the American Heart Association at www.americanheart.org and the American Stroke Association at www.strokeassociation.org or ask your doctor for resource information.

This is the month to focus on living preventively and I encourage everyone to be aware and make that a personal goal for the family.

Angela Rocheleau has 25 years of experience in the home health care industry focusing on leadership roles for the past two decades. She serves on the Better Business Bureau board of Central New England and the Executive Board of the Mass Council for Home Care Aides.