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Recovery after a Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction (AMI), changes the lives of both seniors and their caregivers.

Published: Jan 11, 2016

Recovery after a Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction (AMI), changes the lives of both seniors and their caregivers. Fortunately, because of advances in coronary surgery and care, seniors who survive a heart attack can often enjoy healthy, active lives for years to come.

What you can expect when your loved one returns home after a heart attack depends on its severity and the actual damage to the heart. Seniors over 65 may need eight weeks or more to fully recover, and are more prone to complications than younger patients. If your loved one has had a heart attack, it's essential to understand the changes necessary for a successful recovery.

Fighting depression. About one fourth of victims feel depressed, angry, and afraid after a heart attack. This is normal and usually goes away with time, as they get back to regular activities. Help by encouraging your loved one to:

  • Get a good night's sleep, but not stay in bed all day.
  • Resume favorite hobbies.
  • Share feelings with the family, a friend, a clergyman, or support group.

Limit visits with friends and family at first to avoid feeling overly tired. Increase visits, depending on how your loved one feels. With time, these visits can lift his or her spirits.

Resuming activity. The first week home, your loved one may feel tired or weak. This is because of the damage to the heart muscle and bed rest in the hospital. For the first few weeks, loved ones should follow their physician’s discharge orders, which generally include:

  • Get dressed each morning and take care of personal hygiene (bathing, shaving, dressing).
  • Spread activities throughout the day. If your loved one becomes tired, he or she should rest and schedule unfinished activities for another day.
  • Walk every day as prescribed by the doctor for a healthy mind and to regain energy.
  • Slowly return to light household chores (cooking, light gardening, dusting, washing dishes, folding clothes).

Do not lift, push, or pull very heavy objects until the doctor says it is okay to resume these activities.

Diet after a heart attack. Eating a heart-healthy diet is very important to prevent future complications of
heart disease. Strategies to reduce coronary artery disease include:

  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Eat a variety, and just the right amount of protein foods.
  • Choose fat calories wisely, and limit dietary cholesterol.
  • Use complex carbohydrates for energy, and limit the intake of simple carbohydrates.

Follow any physician prescribed dietary restrictions

Taking medications. Possibly the most critical step in recovery, medications are prescribed after a heart attack to:

  • Prevent future blood clots.
  • Lessen the work of the heart and improve its performance and recovery.
  • Lower cholesterol.
  • Treat irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, control angina (chest discomfort), and treat heart failure.

Your loved one’s doctor or nurse should review all medications with him or her. It’s important to know the
names of the medications, what they are for, proper dosages, when to take them, and to keep a list and take medications to each doctor visit. If there are questions about any medications, ask the doctor or pharmacist.

Changes in lifestyle. There is no cure for coronary artery disease. In order to prevent the progression of this disease, there must be lifestyle changes so the heart does not have to work as hard. For example:

  • Stop smoking, as it is directly related to an increased risk of heart attack and its complications.
  • Lower high blood cholesterol. Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan. When proper eating
  • does not control cholesterol levels, medication is prescribed.
  • Control high blood pressure. A healthy diet, low sodium, exercise, and medications can help.
  • Maintain diabetes control through diet, exercise, and medications.
  • Follow an exercise plan to improve energy and overall health. Always check with the doctor first.
  • Control stress and anger with skills such as time management, relaxation, or yoga. 

Get regular heart check-ups. Your loved one should make a doctor's appointment four to six weeks after leaving the hospital, or as the physician directs, to check the progress of his or her recovery. The doctor may also recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program in a medically supervised setting.

Comfort Keepers® can help. Comfort Keepers®’ Interactive Caregiving™ keeps senior clients engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally while living independently at home. Call your local office today to find out more about the ways we can help during the recovery process.

References:
American Heart Association. “Heart Attack Recovery FAQs”. Web. 2015
Cleveland Clinic. “Heart Attack Recovery”. Web. 2015.
AgingCare.com. “Changes to Make in Your Life After a Heart Attack”. Web. 2015.

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