Heart Failure hospitalization: A roadmap for carers

Sometimes, heart failure symptoms can worsen and the person you care for may need to be taken into hospital for treatment. Hospitalization can feel scary, but your support as their caregiver will help them through the process and it can even provide a good opportunity to help improve their care going forward.

It’s also important to remember that the road to recovery doesn’t end when your loved one exits through the hospital doors. Your help will be needed, especially in the days following their discharge from hospital. During this time, it’s very important to stay aware of symptoms, so you can actively help to avoid another hospital visit any time soon.

To help you navigate through this potentially difficult time, we’ve created a roadmap for carers:

From hospital to home: A roadmap for carers

During their hospital stay

During your loved one’s time in hospital, it’s a good idea to talk to the doctor to understand more about why they have been hospitalized. Is it because their condition is worsening or their heart is becoming more damaged? Is it because their current treatment isn’t working as it should and they need to change their management plan? What can be done to prevent future hospitalizations? It’s important to understand as much as you can about your loved one’s treatment plan while it is being decided in hospital. This will help you in caring for them as best as possible once they leave.

Hospitalization due to a heart failure event will likely provide an opportunity to review your loved one’s treatment plan as a whole. Take this time to share any broader health problems or information about other diagnosed conditions with the medical team, as this may impact the disease management plan developed.

Preparing for discharge

Once you’re only a few days away from being able to bring them home, it’s important that you and the person you care for discuss a discharge plan with their doctor. This will provide you with clear guidance on how to best care for your loved one once they’ve left hospital.

Here are some questions you may want to ask the doctor:

  • What symptoms should I look out for? – ask the medical team what symptoms you should be keeping an eye on and what these symptoms might mean.
  • If I spot any of these symptoms, what should I do? – find out the action plan for if you do spot these symptoms. If they show symptoms should you bring your loved one into hospital? Should you call the doctor?
  • Can I monitor any symptoms myself? – the medical team may be able to provide you with tools for physically monitoring your loved one’s symptoms such as a blood pressure monitor. Ask how often you should be checking and how you should record the data.
  • Have there been changes to their medication plan? – it would be a good idea to ask for a list of their medications, with how often and when they need to be taken. Who should be contacted with questions about medication or to get access to medication once they’ve left the hospital?
  • How active should they be? - are there any activities that they should or shouldn’t be doing in the weeks after their return from hospital?
  • Are there any dietary recommendations? – are there any foods they should be avoiding or foods that could be particularly beneficial for them?
  • Who will be following up on their treatment once they’re back at home? – how can I make sure the information from the hospital is transferred to their regular doctor or primary physician?

We know that talking to doctors isn’t always easy, so we’ve created a handy guide full of useful tips to help ensure these conversations run smoothly.

Preparations for their return home

Hospitalizations for heart failure usually last between five and 10 days, depending on a person’s condition; it’s always best to listen to the doctor’s recommendation when deciding the right time to leave. Once you know when your loved one will be returning home, it’s a good idea to start preparing for their arrival as early as possible. This could involve talking to friends, family and neighbors, to get a support network in place. Letting others know what’s going on and providing them with some information about your loved one’s treatment and care, means they will be able to provide help when you need them.

Practical preparations may also be necessary, such as setting up a bed for them downstairs, making sure the house is accessible for a wheelchair (if one is needed), sorting their transport home from hospital or organizing food deliveries. It could also mean talking to care staff at the hospital about getting additional support like nurse or occupational therapist visits. You may find it helpful to approach a local patient group to ask their guidance on getting the help you and your loved one need.

Discharge day

It’s discharge day – hooray! Before they leave the hospital, be sure to make sure you have clear dates for any follow up appointments. Depending on what the doctor recommends, these could be scheduled for a few days or a few weeks after leaving hospital. It’s also important to understand how best you can contact the care team – do they have a phone service or an internet portal with telemedicine?

If possible, ask for a discharge letter which can be given to their primary physician or any other doctor they may see following discharge, to provide them with all the updates they need.

Before you go, if there is anything at all you are still unclear about, now is the time to ask the doctor, nurse or specialist. Spend 10 minutes the night before making a list of questions to ensure there is nothing left off your list and thinking about all the things you might need to know before you bring them home.

Home sweet home

Your loved one has made it home, but that doesn’t mean that their road to recovery is over. Ensure that you both monitor their symptoms, just as they were being monitored at the hospital. If you want a little extra help keeping track of their symptoms, why not use the symptom checker?

Remember, it’s important to look after yourself too. You can only take care of your loved one if you are taking care of yourself at the same time. Make use of your support network so that you can take a well-deserved break – that’s what they are there for!

Going forward

As a carer, you will always play an important role in your loved one’s life with heart failure, through hospitalization and beyond. Once they are fully recovered from their trip to hospital, you can help empower them to continue looking after themselves and to take control of their heart failure.

Sources: