Assisted Living and Senior Heart Care
Living with cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be a frightening experience. For most, it’s a chronic condition, one that goes on for many years. A supportive and helpful living environment, such as that found in an assisted living community, can make an enormous difference in the life of someone with CVD.
CVD is the number one cause of death among seniors the world over. Each year, it claims more than half a million American lives. The good news is that it’s on the decline in the U.S., claiming the lives of fewer older adults each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between the years of 2000 and 2010, the number of older adults hospitalized due to heart disease has steadily and significantly decreased. During that same time period, more and more older adults have chosen to live in assisted living communities making it clear that senior communities play an important role in helping older adults deal with the effects of CVD.
Though the number of deaths from heart disease recently fell 3.7%, it remains the leading killer in the U.S. Over 600,000 Americans die from the disease every year—more than die from cancer. With these statistics, a primary goal for senior living should be taking care of your heart.
So how can you mitigate the risks? Who is at risk? How can I best take care of my heart? Let’s look at these risks and what you can do to mitigate them.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
Some risks you can control, some you can’t. According the American Heart Association, here are the factors that are out of your hands:
- Increasing Age. About 84% who die of heart disease are 65 and older.
- Gender. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do. And they have heart attacks earlier in life.
- Heredity/Race. If your parents had heart disease, your risk is increased. African Americans are at a higher risk than Caucasians because of hereditary high blood pressure. As are Mexican Americans, American Indians, and native Hawaiians because of higher rates of obesity and diabetes.
Controllable Risk Factors
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 2–4 times that of nonsmokers. Pipe and cigar smoking also increases risk though not as greatly as cigarettes.
- High Blood Cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. The higher the levels of cholesterol the greater the risk of heart disease and heart attack. The two types of cholesterol are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDLs are sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it deposits the fat (plaque) on the walls of your heart arteries. This increases your risk of heart disease. HDLs are referred to as “good” cholesterol because they help remove cholesterol from your arteries.
- High Blood Pressure. This is the pressure of blood exerted in the artery walls as the heart pumps. The high pressure can increase the heart’s workload and cause the heart to thicken. This increases risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Physical inactivity doubles your risk of heart disease. But moderate physical activity can help prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Working out regularly can also help control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
- Obesity and Overweight. Have you ever huffed and puffed just trying your shoes? That spare tire will increase your risk even you have no other risk factors. When you’re heavier, your heart is working harder. Being overweight also increases your blood pressure, raises cholesterol levels and makes the risk of developing diabetes greater.
- Diabetes. This is a disease where the body’s blood sugar level is too high. The two kinds of diabetes are type 1 and 2. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Being overweight raises your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Heart Disease Prevention & Risk Mitigation
- Quit Smoking. We know it’s easier said than done. But if you’re serious about a healthy heart, doctors say this is the smartest step you can take.
- Diet. First, cut back on your total fat. Then focus on eating food that will help you lower your cholesterol. Eating oatmeal and food high in fiber will reduce the LDLs. Think kidney beans, apples, pears and prunes. Eating fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids will reduce your blood pressure. Try herring, halibut, salmon and mackerel. Eating nuts like almonds and walnuts will keep your blood vessels healthy.
- Exercise. You don’t have to become the next Jack Lalanne. Simply walking 30 minutes every day will reduce your risks. Be sure to consult your doctor before you undergo any new physical activity.
- Healthy Weight Loss. Losing just 10 pounds will decrease your risk of heart disease. Start with a healthy diet. Then work in a regular exercise. Combined, you’ll see the weight come off and you’ll immediately have more energy.
- Diabetes Maintenance. Weight loss and regular physical activity also can help control diabetes.
Lifestyle Choices Often Lead to Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is often considered to be a “lifestyle” illness. Although a few risk factors, such as age, gender and family history, just exist and you have no control over them, other lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise and smoking, often determine a person’s likelihood of developing some form of CVD.
Exercise is crucial to the success of any cardiovascular program; therefore, anyone with a heart condition should look for an assisted living community that can adequately provide for this essential component of any heart health regime. Not only should the community have equipment, such as exercise bicycles, treadmills and ellipticals, that can be used at your convenience, but they should also offer fitness counseling and ongoing classes to help keep you motivated.
No amount of exercise can overcome bad eating habits when it comes to heart health; therefore, any assisted living community you’re considering should be able to accommodate the special dietary needs of a cardiac patient. Fortunately, most, if not all, communities now offer heart-healthy meal choices. Be sure to sample a few meals at any community you are considering. Think of it this way … the community provides most of the food you’ll be eating. You are essentially picking an eating establishment you’ll be frequenting often. You want to make sure you like it.
Smoking, however, is the number one lifestyle habit impacting cardiovascular disease. It’s also the one which assisted living communities have the least control over, although they can and do limit where residents are allowed to smoke (often outside), thereby, creating a smoke-free environment for the majority of residents.
Healthy Heart Habits
It is common to hear that people who smoke and people who are overweight are more likely to get a heart attack. According to the National Institute of Health, two-thirds of the population of America are overweight. There are certain circumstances that are not exactly ideal for your heart. Here are a few habits that you can begin to develop for your heart today.
- Coffee, Of All Things. Believe it or not, getting yourself another cup of java is good for your heart. Two or three cups of coffee a day is actually a good thing. Go ahead; enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning. Your heart will thank you.
- Remaining Calm. Your heart and emotions tend to be related. If you see the world as threatening and are quick to anger, this makes it risky for your heart. Stress, anxiety and depression are also known as SAD. Feeling these emotions puts you at greater risk for heart disease. Keeping your emotions calm and your disposition serene goes a long way towards a long, healthy life. Body hormones that damage the heart are released by SAD such as epinephrine and cortisol. Blood sugar and blood pressure increase and can be threatening to the heart. However, getting enough exercise, sleep and the right diet will do wonders for your quality of life. Be sure to socialize and get some exercise if you feel depressed, anxious or stressed. See a psychiatrist if you need a prescription for mood disorders. Both your heart and your mood will benefit from this.
- Don’t Shake that Salt Shaker! Heart problems don’t come from salt per se. You can liberally shake salt on most of your food if you have low blood pressure, are healthy and have good levels of cholesterol. Keeping your salt under 1,500 milligrams daily is the recommendation. On the other hand, if you have a heart problem and have high blood pressure, avoid salt at all costs. The body retains water when you eat a lot of salt. This causes swollen legs, high blood pressure, and an all-over groggy feeling. Season food with herbs instead of salt. On very rare occasions, sprinkle a bit of salt on your food if you must.
- Knowledge is Power. Do you know your cholesterol level and your blood pressure? Being aware of what these levels are for your body will help give you unexpected health issues or prevent you from being a walking time bomb. High blood pressure increases your risk for getting a heart attack, since there are hardly any symptoms before it happens. Be aware of these risks by getting a regular check-up. In addition, you won’t get any symptoms with high cholesterol. You can be a fitness fanatic with an over-300 cholesterol level. Knowing what the levels of your cholesterol and blood pressure are may just save you in the long run. If you do get a check up and the results come out high, get a couple more check-ups in the next one to ensure that these are not flukes. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend medication for blood pressure if necessary. If there are bad side effects, ask your doctor if there are alternatives. In no way should you skip taking medications at any cost as this may be dangerous to your health.
- Floss Already! No matter how many times dentists have advised you to floss daily, how many people really follow this advice? Maybe if you realize that flossing may actually save your heart, you will think twice about skipping the floss. There is a link between heart health and flossing. Gum inflammation can sometimes lead to body inflammation, which risks a heart attack. Flossing everyday gives you a chance to rule out plaque in the bloodstream which can be a contributor to heart issues.
- Get Those Zzz’s. If you are deprived of sleep on a continuous basis you are stressing out your body, whether you realize it or not. Hormones that damage the heart are increased when you are in a constant state of stress. People who get less than six hours of sleep each night and who are over the age of forty-five are twice as vulnerable to getting heart attacks compared to those that sleep up for six to eight hours. Cardiovascular health requires seven hours a night of sleep. Sleep apnea may also be the cause of sleep deprivation. When you sleep for the appropriate number of hours but wake up exhausted, make an appointment with your health care practitioner for a check-up. After all, it is both quality and amount of sleep that affects health overall.
- Banish Red Meat. More and more information points to the fact that red meat should simply be banished forever for all diets. In particular, steak, ham and bacon as well as other processed red meat need to be limited. There is a link between cancer, heart disease and other ailments to high consumption of these types of red meat. In addition, TMAO levels are raised in the body when you eat meat. TMAO is an organic ingredient in red meat that is related to heart ailments. Meat lovers also tend to eat fewer greens, which works against health even more. Eat a diet based on plants to protect your heart. There are diets that include fish or chicken in place of meat for protein. Have protein just once a week if you must. Lessen the fatty oil or gravy that you pour over the meat.
- Being a Couch Potato is a No-No. There is no harm in slacking on the couch for some television after a hard day’s work, right? Wrong. When it comes to your heart being a couch potato is the ‘new smoking.’ Even if you do a daily workout at the gym, when you sit down for hours at the end of the day doing nothing, it is not healthy for your metabolism. There is no need to give up television altogether. You might, however, want to buy a treadmill instead of a couch to put in front of it. At the very least, take a walk around the house or do some jumping jacks. Sit up now and then to do some stretching. Your risk of developing heart disease is greater the more sedentary your lifestyle is.
By following these beneficial habits you will have better health for your heart, decrease your risk of heart disease, and feel better about yourself knowing that you are treating your body the way it deserves to be treated. With respect and lots of care!
How Do Assisted Living Communities Help?
If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as:
- Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Atrial Fibrillation
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Acute Myocardial Infarction
- Peripheral Vascular Disease
… then, living in a high-quality assisted living community that provides a comprehensive and fully integrated cardiovascular health rehabilitation program is crucial.
Evidence has repeatedly shown that although Americans know what to do to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, they have not done so. Assisted living communities make it easier to incorporate a heart-healthy lifestyle into everyday living by:
- Providing heart-healthy meals that taste good
- Offering educational classes and resources
- Offering fun, heart-healthy activities
- Providing an environment conducive to working out
- Having friends around you to workout with and to motivate you on the days you don’t feel like it
- Offering rehabilitative, heart-healthy fitness programs tailored to specific needs
- Providing a coordination of care and services
- Providing an extra set of eyes to monitor things such as edema, skin integrity, etc.
Assisted living communities also offer or work with others to help provide:
- End of life care for those coming to the end of their journey
- Palliative care (see section below)
- Comfort care and hospice care as end of life approaches
Some also offer skilled nursing care in part of their community should the need arise.
Palliative Care and Assisted Living
An assisted living community is just one component of a team working together to provide palliative care, which focuses on relieving the symptoms and stress of a serious illness such as CVD. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage in a serious illness and can be used in conjunction with curative treatments.
Disability and Cardiovascular Disease
Although CVD doesn’t always lead to disability, any for disability and would find themselves in need of assisted living as well. Some of the more common heart diagnoses include (this list is by no means exhaustive):
- Hypertensive Heart Disease
- Congestive Heart Failure, also called Chronic Heart Failure
- Recurrent Arrhythmias
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency
- Ischemic Heart Disease
Cost of Cardiovascular Focused Assisted Living
The cost of care in an assisted living community varies depending on several different factors including location (city and state), amenities and services. According to the 2017 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average cost of care nationally is $3,750 per month.
How to Pay for Heart Care & Assisted Living
Unless care is determined to be medically necessary and recommended and certified by a doctor, costs will not be covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Since the vast majority of care provided in assisted living communities is personal care (assistance with activities of daily living), other methods of payment will need to be utilized.
These methods include:
- Self-pay (savings)
- Long-term care insurance (purchased in advance)
- A life insurance policy with long-term care services allows a percentage of the policy’s face value for certain care locations
- Long-term care annuities
- A life settlement
- A reverse mortgage, however, one owner of the home would be required to remain in the home.
Some of these options require prior planning. Some require you to be a certain age or in a certain situation before being able to take advantage of them.