Lockdown effect: Tips to take care of elderly living with heart conditions

Data from world over has shown that senior citizens are at a higher risk of the COVID-19 infection if they have any comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes and underlying heart diseases, especially heart failure.

The extended lockdown brings new challenges every day. The elderly population is quite vulnerable during this period, as they try and balance their health and household chores, with these restrictions. Their social life is at a complete halt. A simple act like going for a walk every morning/evening is discontinued from their lives. They are experiencing high levels of anxiety, along with the fear of getting infected by the virus. Truly, COVID-19 has hit them hard, explains Dr Sandeep Seth, professor cardiology at AIIMS – New Delhi.

Recent data by AgeWell Foundation reveals that every second elderly person in India (49 percent) lives only with their elderly spouse as their children or relatives live separately. In the current situation of the lockdown, elderly people living alone are being taxed physically, mentally and emotionally.

Data from world over has shown that senior citizens are at a higher risk of the COVID-19 infection, if they have any comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes and underlying heart diseases, especially heart failure.

According to the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology, older people aged 80 and above had the highest fatality rate of all age groups at about 15 percent. Further, various reports also suggest that compared to other underlying conditions, mortality rates were highest among heart failure patients with COVID-19 infection, at 15.3 percent.

Heart failure is a leading cause of mortality affecting an estimated 10 million people in India with the highest rate of repeat hospitalisation among all heart diseases. It is a progressive disease, in which the heart muscle weakens and becomes stiff overtime, which reduces its ability to pump properly. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients circulated to vital organs of the body.

Symptoms of heart failure:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swelling in the ankle, legs and abdomen.
  • Need for elevated pillows while sleeping or lying down, to breathe properly.
  • Constant tiredness and fatigue.

Here are a few tips for family members and caregivers to help the elderly during these difficult times:

Talk to them

This period of isolation can be every challenging for heart patients, as it can stir up anxiety and depression. Caregivers are advised to stay connected through calls or video calls twice or thrice a day. If you are living with them, engage them in activities like board games, listen to music of their choice or watch movies together. Make sure all the precautions are taken such as washing hands, wearing masks and gloves. Reassure them that this is a phase that will pass.

Stay alert about symptoms and medications

It is very important for heart patients to stay connected with their cardiologist through phone or via video calls (telemedicine). Caregivers should get themselves updated about influenza vaccines for acute respiratory illness, making sure it is taken, make a daily note of symptoms and ensure there is no change in the frequency or dosage of medications without consulting the doctor.

Build a mechanism for daily activity

Caregivers can use technology to set up a mechanism for daily household chores, with online groceries apps that can deliver at their doorsteps. Younger members can lend a helping hand in daily activities. If you don’t live with your elderly parents, try seeking help from neighbours to check on them once every day. Heart failure patients are advised not to exert themselves as they are already battling with constant fatigue and symptoms like shortness of breath.

Emergency numbers should be handy

Heart patients are prone to repeated hospitalisations. Therefore, it is important to have the emergency contact details of the nearest hospital, ambulance service and neighbours stored in yours and the patient’s phone. Make sure these emergency numbers are accessible easily and not password protected.

Indulge them in healthy diet and light exercise

Caregivers should also moderate the lifestyle and diet of their elderly patients. Various apps are available, through which heart failure patient’s dietary requirements can be controlled, from water reminder apps for limited water intake, apps which measure your salt and protein/vitamin consumption, to light exercise apps which shows easy home workouts for elderly. You can do these activities with them to motivate and support them.

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