FAQ from Caregivers

Updated:Oct 27,2016

pe-img-cg-resources-faqMy loved one weighs 200 pounds. How can I bathe him?
If your loved one is disabled from a heart attack or stroke or weak from heart surgery, you may not be able to take care of all his needs by yourself. Contact your healthcare provider for home-health resources in your community. They can help you in this and many other ways. At the very least, they can show you how to give a sponge bath by yourself. Or they can provide staff to bathe him regularly. Put a stool in your shower or bathtub with a rubber mat underneath it. This helps patients who are weak or dizzy.

How long will my loved one be this helpless?
Recovery from a heart attack or stroke takes time and patience on your part. Some people are able to recover more fully than others. Talk to your medical team to get a better understanding of what to expect for the future. Be prepared that your loved one may not be able to do all that he or she could before the heart attack or stroke. At the same time, remember that the rehabilitation process enables many people to do much more than they ever expected.

Is there a foolproof way to remember to give my loved one the right medicines at the right time?
Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to write a schedule of when and how much of each medicine is needed. Transfer the schedule to a daily calendar and post the calendar where you will see it several times a day. Put a check mark beside the time on the schedule each time the medicine is taken. Here's another way: Once a week, portion out each day's medication into a separate container (your pharmacy should have a pill container that has separate slots for each day's medicines). If you have trouble remembering to look at the schedule or the pill container, get an alarm clock or watch with an alarm that you can set for each medication time.

Download our printable medicine tracker

Money worries are weighing us down. What can we do?
Unexpected bills can pile up quickly, whether or not you have health insurance or Medicare. So stay organized. Open all correspondence from your insurance company or healthcare provider immediately and take the appropriate action. Put all of your medical bills in one place. If you're too busy taking care of your loved one to deal with the bills, get a trusted friend or relative to help. Or contact your hospital's or healthcare provider's patient services representative for help. Talk to others to find out how they managed their medical bills. Often, simple patience and persistence succeeds in the end.

My loved one is so angry about this heart attack. Is this normal?
It's not at all unusual for heart attack and stroke survivors to be angry and agitated. After all, they — and perhaps, you — are having to change the way things are done in daily life. Change like that is hard. It also takes time and skill. It's especially important for everyone involved to recognize the signs of depression. It's a common after-effect of a stroke or heart attack.

Learn more about coping with feelings.

How can I tell if my loved one is depressed or just discouraged?
It's natural for someone who's had a major medical problem to feel blue or become depressed. Often it's because of physiological changes that are a result of the medical problem. Other times a person is scared about what the future holds. As a caregiver, you need to be on the alert for symptoms of depression. If you suspect your loved one is depressed, tell the doctor. There are excellent medications that can help someone get through depression.

Take a depression screening test from Mental Health America.

My loved one had open-heart surgery, and I'm afraid he or she is overdoing rehabilitation. How can I know how much is too much?
It's great that your loved one is so motivated. But you're right, the rehabilitation process should be done in a sensible manner. Each survivor has a different capacity. So find out from the healthcare professionals what is considered "too much." You may find that his or her pace is OK, but if they're overdoing it, gently share your concerns without nagging or being overprotective. Your loved one's surgery has affected you too, and they need to know what you're feeling.

Visit our Cardiac Rehab website to learn what to expect

How can I give my loved one the care needed when he or she won't speak to me?
Your loved one may not be able to speak clearly, especially if he or she is a stroke survivor. Aphasia is common after strokes. Be sure your loved one has been fully evaluated to see if a there is a medical or physiological reason for not speaking. Depression from a major medical trauma may also cause this. Review the signs of depression and talk with the doctor if you suspect it. Finally, be patient. Your lives have changed. That takes some getting used to. Don't let your loved one's silence keep you from communicating with him or her.

My loved one has nothing to say to family and friends when they come to visit. How can I encourage participation?
It's possible that the stroke caused some injury to your loved one's brain. They might not fully comprehend what's going on around them or what people are saying. Talk to the healthcare professionals to determine if the injury was in an area that could affect hearing, comprehension or speaking ability. If so, find out what course of rehabilitation is needed to recover as much of those functions as possible. Once again, depression might be the cause. Review the signs of depression. Ask the doctor about medication for depression.

My loved one acts like nothing has happened. I'm afraid he or she is going to have another heart attack. What can I do?
There's a fine line between being supportive and being overprotective. Your loved one is the best judge of how he or she is feeling at any given time. Have you both taken steps to reduce the risk of a future event, such as staying physically active, not smoking, eating low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol meals, taking medications as prescribed, and checking in with the doctors as recommended? If so, your loved one is probably heading in the right direction. Talk the situation over with the doctor with your loved one present.

Learn more about recovering from and preventing heart attack.

Since his heart surgery, my loved one has lost so much weight, I'm afraid for her or him. How do I balance the need to gain weight with the cholesterol-lowering requirements?
First, check with his doctor to determine if there's a medical reason for your loved one's weight loss and ask what the target weight should be. If there's no medical explanation and he or she is truly underweight, then eating more calories will help. Try to make the calories come from low-fat foods. Also, try getting your loved one to eat more often — instead of having three meals a day, try four or five.

After the stroke, my loved one went back to smoking. I can't say anything without a fight. What can I do to help?
For starters, if you smoke, please set a good example and quit. If you don't smoke, you can't really do anything but be there to offer support when your loved one gets ready to quit. Nagging won't help. Learn all you can about the difficulties in quitting and the most successful ways a person can quit. Review with your loved one the damage that cigarette smoking can cause and the high risk it is for having another event and future health problems. And remember, a smoker often has to quit several times before achieving success. Be patient and stay supportive.

Get tips, tools and resources for quitting smoking.

I take my loved one's blood pressure often. How high can it go before I should worry?
The goal in preventing another heart attack, stroke or heart surgery is to keep blood pressure at the goal level set by the doctors. Find out the danger zone. Then keep a chart of the different readings each day for several weeks. Be sure to take the chart to the next doctor's visit so the doctor knows how well treatment is working. The preferred blood pressure level is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and 80 mm Hg diastolic. A blood pressure of 120 mm Hg systolic and/or 80 mm Hg diastolic to 139 mm Hg systolic and/or 89 mm Hg diastolic is considered "prehypertension" and lifestyle changes are recommended to lower it. A reading of 140 mm Hg systolic and/or 90 mm Hg diastolic or higher is high blood pressure and is dangerous. Losing weight, becoming more physically active, eating low-fat and low-salt foods, and taking medications your loved one's doctor prescribes can help lower blood pressure.

Learn more about controlling blood pressure.
Download our printable blood pressure tracker..

My loved one talks about dying, feels less than a person and refuses to go see a doctor. What can I do?
This is very serious and needs quick attention. Contact the doctor and explain your concerns. The doctor will tell you the best way to get your loved one in for an appointment. There are medications that can help depression, and the doctor can recommend a counselor.

Before the heart attack and heart surgery, my loved one was the original couch potato. I don't want to push too hard, but he or she just doesn't want to get moving. Any suggestions?
First, the doctors should clearly outline how much and what type of physical activity your loved one needs. If your loved one says that's too much, take it up with the doctor. You can help by coming up with ideas that will make being physically active easier for your loved one. Offer to take a walk together. Get a stationary bike they can ride while watching television. Start being more active yourself and then draw your loved one in. Be patient and don't nag. Your loved one might be afraid that exercising will cause something else to happen. Get the doctor to help calm those fears and explain the health benefits of physical activity and the health risks of staying inactive.

Learn more about physical activity following a cardiac event.

This content was last reviewed on 12/18/2014.


Caregivers like you need support. Join our Support Network.
Subscribe to Heart Insight magazine and monthly e-newsletter
Heart Insight logo
Our digital magazine delivers helpful articles and the latest news on keeping your heart healthy. Sign up today!



By clicking submit below you agree to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

Caregiver Journal Pages

    Hands Writing in a Journal

    These journal pages have been designed specifically for caregivers. Journaling is a valuable tool for caregivers and can greatly relieve stress.

    View All Journal Pages