Heart failure: Long-term care and end-of-life issues for family members

Seeking outside help

Some families need outside help to care for a loved one with heart failure. If all of your family members work, it may not be possible to care for your loved one at home. Some people with heart failure require more care than their family can reasonably be expected to provide. In these cases, you may consider placing your loved one in a long-term care facility.

The available long-term care options depend on your loved one's level of independence and need for supervision. Some people with heart failure are relatively independent and able to perform basic activities on their own, but they need assistance in preparing meals and sorting their medicines. These people may be well cared for in a supervised living facility that provides food and staff but not routine nursing care. Other people may have difficulty performing basic activities and may get better care in a nursing home where the staff can assist them with eating and bathing. In a nursing home, nurses can track your loved one's symptoms and make sure that they take their drugs appropriately.

It is important for people who are in long-term care facilities to feel that they are still a part of their family. Frequent visits by family members or day trips to the family home go a long way in improving these people's emotional health.

Considering the end of life

It is important for families to be willing to discuss end-of-life issues with both their loved one and his or her doctor. A clear decision needs to be made regarding what to do if your severely sick loved one becomes even sicker. You and your loved one should decide whether life-support measures should be used if your loved one's condition becomes more severe. Discuss these issues with your doctor.

Some people feel very strongly that every possible medical treatment should be used to prolong their lives. Others feel that if there is no reasonable chance of their health improving, then the only measures that should be taken are those that make them as comfortable as possible. This is a very personal, and can be a very difficult, decision.

It is much easier to make this decision when your loved one feels relatively healthy and is able to openly express his or her wishes to a family member or friend. Even if it is uncomfortable, try to give your loved one support during this tough time.

Last Updated: August 25, 2008

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