Caregivers Corner: Maintaining Heart Health While Caregiving

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Thursday, April 13, 2023

Family caregivers often find themselves facing significant challenges when it comes to supporting loved ones with heart conditions. Many caregivers with common symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pressure, shortness of breath, awareness of heartbeat, dizziness, or tiredness with physical activity, turn to healthcare professionals like Dr. Stephen Robinson, M.D. Assistant Professor of Medicine with Duke Cardiology of Raleigh, to understand what may be happening with their heart. These individuals often juggle the responsibilities of taking care of aging parents or partners while also caring for their own children. Such caregivers have a lot on their plate and the added stress of possible health problems can make their job even more challenging.

When it comes to self-care, family caregivers often struggle to prioritize their own health needs. Based on Dr. Robinson's experience, many of them chuckle at the notion of self-care or remain silent when asked about their own well-being. However, preventing, stopping, and reversing heart disease often requires knowing your "numbers" and lifestyle habits. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are the key numbers to keep track of, while regular physical activity, good sleep, eating more than five whole fruits and vegetables a day avoiding the standard American diet containing calorie-rich and processed foods, and maintaining strong social connections are some of the important lifestyle habits that can help prevent heart disease.

Despite these recommendations, caregiving can make it difficult for individuals to maintain these healthy habits. It is paramount to care for yourself to give care to others. Prioritizing self-care can lead to better care of oneself, and this, in turn, can enable caregivers to provide longer and better care to their loved ones. Overall, caregiving can be challenging, but it is important for caregivers to prioritize their own well-being to provide the best possible care for their loved ones with heart conditions. Dr. Stephen E. Robinson, Cardiovascular and Lifestyle Medicine specialist with Duke Cardiology of Raleigh notes that heart disease builds over years, and more than 80% of preventing, stopping, and reversing it is lifestyle habits. Lifestyle habits include at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, refreshing sleep, more than five whole fruits and vegetables a day, and loving connections. How that looks for everyone is different, especially when being a caregiver.

As a caregiver, finding time for self-care can be challenging, but it is essential to prioritize your own well-being to prevent burnout and provide the best possible care for your loved ones. One effective strategy for building time into your life for self-care is to set small goals and create a routine that works for you. For instance, you could aim to take a 10-minute walk in the morning, do some gentle stretches during a break, or meditate for a few minutes before going to bed. You could also try delegating some of your caregiving responsibilities to other family members, friends, or professional caregivers to free up some time for yourself. Additionally, consider seeking support from local support groups or online communities for caregivers, as they can provide valuable resources, tips, and advice on self-care and stress management.

Caregivers, get connected with other caregivers for valuable support and resources. These resources are available at no charge: ABC11's Caregivers Corner Facebook group, access to Duke Health's 2022 virtual caregivers event, and this ABC11's Caregivers Corner website.