Because of the often debilitating nature of heart disease or stroke, the effects of those diseases often impact not just the patient, but family members who are placed in the role as caregivers.

In addition to their new family role and the hours required to perform support functions, costs of caregiving can also mount. In an analysis released in 2018, the American Heart Association (AHA) projected that the cost of informal caregiving for Americans with heart disease and stroke will more than double from $61 billion in 2015 to $128 billion by 2035. The AHA defines informal caregiving as the home care provided by family members or friends for loved ones with no compensation.

The vital role of informal caregivers

“Informal caregivers are indispensable assets to our health care system and often play a significant role in the recovery and well-being of heart disease and stroke survivors,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. “By 2035, the number of Americans living with heart disease and stroke will rise to 131.2 million — 45 percent of the total U.S. population. Understanding the escalating burden this will place on the family members and friends who care for these individuals is essential if we are to address this looming crisis.”

The lead author of a research study published by the AHA, Sandra Dunbar, RN, PhD, FAHA, of Emory University School of Nursing, concurs: “The dramatic rise in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in the next two decades will place an intense strain on caregivers, putting their own health at risk from the ongoing distress, physical demands and costs. Our nation will ultimately bear the financial impact of this situation, especially as the caregiver pool shrinks.”

Where to find support and guidance

To address demands on caregivers, the AHA offers tips to family members that can help to ease or handle the burden. Its web page helps caregivers and patients connect through support groups and offers tips and resources to caregivers to help them take care of themselves as well as their loved one.

The resources include guidance on how to stay healthy and active yourself, healthy eating recipes and tips, ideas on how to effectively communicate with your family member, and how to deal with the emotional upheaval that can come with being thrust into a caregiver role.

The site also offers Answers by Heart, a series of downloadable patient information sheets presented in a Q&A format that’s brief, easy to follow and easy to read. They also provide room for you to write down questions to ask your doctor. Whether you or a loved one just had an acute event or procedure, have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or have had an event before or are at high risk for cardiovascular disease, the sheets will help you start to reduce your risk.

The main thing is to remember you’re not alone. Others have been down this same path — and many are willing to share their experience and insights with you.

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