Preventing a Second Heart Attack
Posted By Maryann On JUNE 06,2017
Lifestyle change is a HUGE factor in reducing the recurrence of a heart attack. And social support is equally large in its ability to tip the scale in favor of a person making difficult shifts, such as quitting smoking, changing eating habits, and becoming less sedentary.
It can be frustrating
The person you care for may, literally, take to heart the need to make changes. Nevertheless, he or she may find it challenging to move from good intentions to action, and from the occasional relapse to getting back on the wagon. Feelings of frustration abound both for the person trying to change and for the family members who care for them.
Making it a team effort
At Caring Choices, we find that family members can have the greatest intentions, but their version of support can feel like nagging to the person struggling with the change of lifelong habits. This sets up unnecessary resistance. Instead, we suggest a team approach in which you work together toward a shared goal.
How to be supportive
The American Cancer Society has a great article about helping a family member to quit smoking. We've adapted some of the concepts so they can be used no matter what habit needs changing.
Things that are helpful
Remove environmental cues of the habit. It turns out that willpower is only a small part of the story. Environmental triggers are key in sparking someone to return to undesired behaviors. So if the goal is to lose weight, remove high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks from the cupboards. Hide ash trays if the goal is to quit smoking. (And certainly if you smoke, help your loved one continue to resist the temptation by smoking outside when visiting.)
Understand the habit is an "old friend." It may be that the person you love has for decades turned to alcohol, cigarettes, overeating, or watching too much TV. Perhaps even longer than you've been alive. It's not easy to give up an "old friend" that has been there to offer "reliable" solace when the going got rough.
Focus on how they are feeling. If you emphasize the number of hours of exercise or number of pounds lost, it's easy for your loved one to feel like a failure. Instead, be an open and sympathetic listener about the trials of change. Focus on constructive problem solving to overcome challenges. (If dessert after dinner is a beloved ritual, suggest an alternate ritual, such as going for a walk, to remove the cueing.)
Stay positive and encouraging. Focus on what they have done. Applaud their successes. Recognize that change is a two-steps-forward/one-step-back process. Help them access any supplies or services they think will help (going to a support group, keeping fresh veggies in the refrigerator for healthy snacks…).
Recognize it's their health, not yours. Even though the consequences clearly fall on many members of the family, in the last analysis, it is your loved one's life and his or her habit to change—or not. Your relative cannot change the habit "for you." He or she needs to do it because it's his or her choice to do so.
Well-intended, but not usually well-received
Best to think twice before:
Pressuring to do more, and faster. This isn't just about avoiding nagging. Even a joke or lighthearted comment can indicate you don't have confidence in your loved one's abilities. His or her self-esteem is likely to be pretty fragile right now. You want to avoid giving a reason to turn to that "old friend" for comfort in the face of hurt feelings or feelings of failure.
Offering advice. Even if you yourself have successfully navigated the same behavior change, giving advice tends to create resentment. A more team-like approach is to ask how you can help, what you can do that would be most supportive. You might be surprised at the answer (and how easy it is to do!).
Taking it personally. When an individual is making a big shift, emotions run high. Your loved one may feel tired and grouchy from the struggles of resisting what was so comforting before. If he or she is short tempered during this process, recognize that it isn't really you. It's simply the struggle of a long-engrained habit that would prefer to keep things the same.
Focus on a cardiac rehab program
Recently we have been including a series about heart attacks in our monthly newsletter for family caregivers. Check out this month's article, "Preventing a second heart attack." If you were to focus on just one thing, consider supporting your loved one to enroll in a cardiac rehab program. This service is covered by Medicare. It usually lasts for a few months post-heart attack and includes exercise, diet, quitting smoking, and support group activities. The person you care for will likely accept the knowledge and admonitions of a health professional far more readily than he or she will accept it from you. After all, you are still their daughter or son. There is important face to be saved.
Need support yourself?
Heart attacks happen to the entire family. Whether you live with the person who has had one or not, at a minimum it consumes a lot of emotional and mental attention. As the north New Jersey experts in family caregiving, we can help all of you weather this storm with minimum bruising of family relations. Remember, in the last analysis, others can push for a healthier lifestyle, but only you can be your parent's daughter or son. Give us a call at 973-627-4087.