Care for the Elderly: Congestive Heart Failure

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posted by Ryan Whittington on January 10, 2011

"All I Heard Was Congestive Heart Failure. What Does That Mean? Is She Going To Die? "

"He Is Trying to Explain It -But It is Like The Doctor Is Speaking Another Language..."

As a nurse who primarily cares for the elderly, these are common reactions I hear. 

Try to stay calm - learning about your elder's disease is important but it takes time to process all the new information and terminology.

Any time a nurse or doctor uses a word that you do not understand, ask them to explain its meaning. Learning all about Congestive Heart Failure is the key to keeping your family member well.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a very common disease among the elderly. A healthy heart can pump blood to all parts of the body in a few seconds. When the heart is no longer able to do this, blood backs up into the lungs and other parts of the body.This back up of fluid not being pumped through the body begins to cause difficulty---such as shortness of breath, swelling in the feet, legs, and hands.

This failure of the heart to pump adequately can be mild to severe. Controlling the symptoms of CHF is imperative. Early treatment prevents hospitalization of the frail elder. Remember, each hospital stay takes its toll on the elderly. They experience weight loss from which they frequently never recoup. They are left so weakened that they often cannot walk and need rehabilitation up to a few weeks--often needing nursing home or home care.

Many people with CHF have an enlarged heart from years of having to struggle to pump the blood. Treatment of the enlarged heart can improve its pumping action.  For most patients treatment consists of daily medications, rest, stress reduction, limiting salt intake and sometimes limiting fluid intake.

The symptoms of CHF include:

  • Swelling in the feet / ankles
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Feeling tired with minimal exertion
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Short and rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing while lying down
  • Cough
  • Restlessness
  • Fast heart beat
  • Swelling or pain in abdomen
  • Loss of appetite

Treating Swelling

  • Keep feet elevated above heart level.
  • Avoid long periods of standing
  • Do not cross legs or ankles
  • Use caution to avoid bumping swollen legs/ankles
  • Lotion legs daily
  • Low salt diet----
  • Do not salt foods
  • Avoid salty foods
  • Read labels carefully--many canned foods are high in salt
  • Daily Weight----Weigh daily in early AM- after urinating
  • Record weigh
  • A 2 lb weight gain in 1-2 days needs to be reported.
  • A 3-5 lb weight in 3-5 days needs to be reported


Notify the doctor with the above weight gain or any of the above symptoms. These symptoms will get worse if ignored and your
elder will risk serious illness probably resulting in hospitalization.

Medications—It is imperative that medications be taken as prescribed. Do not stop medications without talking to the doctor.

Avoiding infections and staying healthy help to keep the heart failure symptoms from getting worse. Anything like an infection makes the heart work harder increasing the strain on the heart. This causes the heart rate to increase.

If flu like symptoms are present notify the doctor immediately-- not in a few days-- do it now!!! Try to avoid anyone with cold or flu symptoms especially during peak flu season.

Ask the doctor about pneumonia and flu vaccine.

CHF is a chronic disability requiring frequent medical follow up. Expect to see the doctor often and do not cancel appointments.

CHF can be fatal if not treated properly. Treated people can live many years.

If you or your loved one would like to talk with me about how private duty home care can help with struggles associated with Congestive Heart Failure, contact me.  Professional assistance can be provided in a wide range of services.  I am here to help.

Dedicated to Eldercare!

About the Author:

Alice Endy is a Registered Nurse with a certification in Gerontology.

Alice has spent her entire career in the field of eldercare.

Being a sought after speaker and consultant, she spends most of her time researching trends and changes in elder care.

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