Every 5 minutes in the UK, someone is admitted to hospital after a heart attack. This is obviously very distressing for the people affected, as well as their friends and family. Thankfully, heart attack survival rates are increasing every year. In fact, there are around 1.4 million people living in the UK who have survived a heart attack.
If your elderly parent has had a heart attack, it isn't easy to know what you should do next. Today's article is a detailed guide that will help you support your parent or relative after a heart attack.
How To Spot A Heart Attack
If you suspect that you or someone around you is having a heart attack, you should call 999 immediately. Do not hesitate - it's always better to be over-cautious. According to the NHS:
Do not worry if you have doubts. Paramedics would rather be called out to find an honest mistake has been made than be too late to save a person's life.
Here are the most common symptoms of a heart attack:
- Chest pain - this may occur suddenly or appear over a couple of days. It might feel like a tightness or pressure in your chest, possibly similar to indigestion.
- Pain elsewhere in the body - commonly in the left arm. Pain can affect both arms, the jaw, the neck, back, or abdomen.
- Feeling sick, breathless, light-headed, or sweaty.
Some people will experience severe pain, while others may only feel discomfort. Some people, particularly women and older people, may not experience any chest pain at all during a heart attack.
What To Do If Someone Has A Heart Attack
If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, it's important to act immediately.
Firstly, you should call 999 without delay. Hospital treatment will likely be essential, so make sure an ambulance is on the way as soon as possible.
While waiting for the ambulance, it may help to chew and swallow an aspirin tablet (300mg). However, make sure the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin before administering this. Aspirin can help to improve blood flow to the heart by thinning the blood.
Help the person to get comfortable while you wait for the ambulance. If you can, help them sit down. This will place less strain on the heart and make them less likely to injure themselves if they collapse.
What To Do After Your Elderly Relative Has a Heart Attack
After a heart attack, most people spend at least a few days in hospital. During this time, you will have the opportunity to prepare yourself and get your loved one's home ready for their return. Heart attack recovery is different for everybody - it could take weeks or months for someone to return to normal. Most people are able to make a full recovery in time, but there may be periods where your loved one isn't able to do the things they previously could. Generally speaking, the older a person is, the more likely they are to experience some complications after a heart attack.
To support an elderly parent or relative after a heart attack, here are a few simple steps you can take.
1. Speak to their healthcare team
While your parent is still in hospital, try and speak with their healthcare team to get as much information as possible. This will help you understand how best to help them once they return home. Your parent may need to make a couple of important lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or eating a healthier diet, to reduce their future risk of heart attacks. Again, their healthcare team will be able to advise you on any specifics.
2. Prepare their home
When they first return home after a heart attack, your loved one may have some difficulty moving around the house. Simple activities such as getting up to make a cup of tea may tire them out very quickly, so try to ensure they have everything they need within easy reach. Similarly, getting up and down the stairs may be difficult at first. Therefore, it's preferable for them to sleep on the same floor as the bathroom to reduce the risk of falls overnight.
If they've been in hospital for a long while, they may have lost some muscle strength, making them more vulnerable to a fall. To reduce this risk, install sturdy grab rails around the home, especially in high-risk areas like the bathroom.
If you can, it may be helpful to stay with them for the first couple of nights just in case they need any help.
3. Install a personal alarm system
After a heart attack, it's only natural to worry about the future. What if they have another heart attack or medical emergency? What if they suffer a fall and can't get back up? A personal alarm can alleviate these worries for you and for your loved one.
Lifeline24 offers a life-saving personal alarm service for the whole of the UK. We're the nation's most affordable provider, offering a range of easy-to-use alarms designed specifically for older people. In an emergency such as a heart attack, the user can call for help with one touch of a button, day or night. All alarm users receive 24/7 support from our UK-based Response Team. What's more, we're accredited by the Telecare Services Association, so you know you'll receive a platinum level of service.
Our standard alarm plan starts from just £12.49 per month or £119 for an annual plan, giving you three months of free service! We also offer an automatic fall detector plan for maximum peace of mind. To find out more about the Lifeline Alarm service, please read our simple guide here or give our team a free call on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, feel free to contact us online or request a call-back.
4. Help them rebuild their strength
Recovering from a heart attack requires lots of rest. As a result of spending lots of time in bed or sitting down, heart attack survivors can lose stamina and muscle strength. Therefore, as soon as they're up to it, it's important to help them build their strength and stamina back up. This is called cardiac rehabilitation. When they feel able, help them do very gentle exercise such as walking around the house. Give them as much assistance as they need, especially when going up or down the stairs.
Then, as they feel stronger, they can keep building their activity. Start with a short walk outside, increasing the distance over time. Their healthcare team may also provide a programme of cardiac rehabilitation including regular assessments, exercise sessions, and advice from healthcare professionals.
5. Look out for mental health concerns
After a heart attack, feelings of anxiety are fairly common. After all, having a heart attack is a frightening, traumatic experience. Listen to what your parent is saying and let them talk about these feelings. Similarly, many people experience depression following a heart attack. Here are some of the warning signs to look out for:
- Your loved one has little interest in doing things they used to enjoy.
- They frequently seem sad or hopeless
- They lose their appetite or show little interest in food.
If these symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, it's important to seek help. If your parent is reluctant to ask for mental health support, remind them that depression and anxiety can also have an adverse effect on their physical recovery. Encourage them to reach out to their GP. If you have power of attorney, you may wish to reach out to a doctor on their behalf.
More Support from Lifeline24
With these five simple tips, you will be able to support your elderly parent through their recovery after a heart attack. Remember to keep taking care of yourself too. Carers who look after relatives are often at-risk of burnout and exhaustion. However, many carers feel unable to leave their loved ones unsupervised in case something happens. This is another area where personal alarms can help. With a Lifeline alarm system in place, your parent will be able to call for help instantly when they need it by pressing the button on their Lifeline pendant. Our 24-Hour Response Team will answer the call straight away and get in touch with the alarm user's emergency contacts. If necessary, the Response Team will also call for an ambulance.
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Editor's Note: This article was updated on 25th November 2021 to reflect current information.