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Recovering After a Heart Attack

It's crucial to get the proper care following a heart attack.

Recovering from a heart attack 

The impact of heart disease in the United States is significant, and it is most strikingly significant in the older population. It is the most prevalent cause of death in the United States, and 80% of those who die of cardiovascular disease are age 65 or older. Every year nearly 720,000 Americans suffer a heart attack. The chances that those who suffer from a heart attack will end up back in the hospital within 30 days of being discharged for the first attack is also great, and the financial impact is tremendous, accounting for $108.9 billion in medical costs each year. While these statistics are notable, the real impact is with the seniors suffering from heart disease, and the question they have after they suffer a heart attack is, “How can I prevent this from happening again?” 

There are many factors that come into play that can cause older adults to end up back in the hospital after a heart attack, and many of these factors may be beyond their control. A failure to properly care for themselves, however, is one factor that they can control. In particular, seniors can help themselves stay out of the hospital by completing a few simple tasks:

  • visiting with physicians for follow-up care
  • taking the appropriate medications at the prescribed times
  • following through with prescribed therapies
  • reducing stress
  • stopping smoking
  • following physicians’ guidance for diet and exercise
Another factor that arises is the "cost" of getting the right help, or taking medications they feel are too expensive.  They often overlook the potential costs of ending up in a nursing home or other facility and losing the freedom to live in their own home.  Here is one page article to consider if someone thinks doing nothing is "cheaper" than proper care. 

While this may seem like a simple instruction, very often these older adults become overwhelmed as they try to deal with their illness and drastic lifestyle changes. Studies show that many patients leave the hospital without fully understanding their disease or their plan of care and may inadvertently stop taking medications that are essential for their recovery. Supporting patients when they leave the hospital is therefore critical to help them help themselves. Simple help such as providing transportation to follow-up care, helping to prepare meals, or reminding the senior when a medication is due can alleviate anxiety about managing daily tasks and can help increase the older adult’s compliance with medical directives. This in turn may just keep that senior out of the hospital and on the road to recovery. 

Recovery after a Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction (AMI), changes the lives of both seniors and their caregivers. Fortunately, because of advances in coronary surgery and care, seniors who survive a heart attack can often enjoy healthy, active lives for years to come.

What you can expect when your loved one returns home after a heart attack depends on its severity and the actual damage to the heart. Seniors over 65 may need eight weeks or more to fully recover, and are more prone to complications than younger patients. If your loved one has had a heart attack, it's essential to understand the changes necessary for a successful recovery.

Fighting depression. About one fourth of victims feel depressed, angry, and afraid after a heart attack. This is normal and usually goes away with time, as they get back to regular activities. Help by encouraging your loved one to:

  • Get a good night's sleep, but not stay in bed all day.
  • Resume favorite hobbies.
  • Share feelings with the family, a friend, a clergyman, or support group.

Limit visits with friends and family at first to avoid feeling overly tired. Increase visits, depending on how your loved one feels. With time, these visits can lift his or her spirits.

Resuming activity. The first week home, your loved one may feel tired or weak. This is because of the damage to the heart muscle and bed rest in the hospital. For the first few weeks, loved ones should follow their physician’s discharge orders, which generally include:

  • Get dressed each morning and take care of personal hygiene (bathing, shaving, dressing).
  • Spread activities throughout the day. If your loved one becomes tired, he or she should rest and schedule unfinished activities for another day.
  • Walk every day as prescribed by the doctor for a healthy mind and to regain energy.
  • Slowly return to light household chores (cooking, light gardening, dusting, washing dishes, folding clothes).

Do not lift, push, or pull very heavy objects until the doctor says it is okay to resume these activities.

Diet after a heart attack. Eating a heart-healthy diet is very important to prevent future complications of

heart disease. Strategies to reduce coronary artery disease include:

  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Eat a variety, and just the right amount of protein foods.
  • Choose fat calories wisely, and limit dietary cholesterol.
  • Use complex carbohydrates for energy, and limit the intake of simple carbohydrates.

Follow any physician prescribed dietary restrictions

Taking medications. Possibly the most critical step in recovery, medications are prescribed after a heart attack to:

  • Prevent future blood clots.
  • Lessen the work of the heart and improve its performance and recovery.
  • Lower cholesterol.
  • Treat irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, control angina (chest discomfort), and treat heart failure.

Your loved one’s doctor or nurse should review all medications with him or her. It’s important to know the

names of the medications, what they are for, proper dosages, when to take them, and to keep a list and take medications to each doctor visit. If there are questions about any medications, ask the doctor or pharmacist.

Changes in lifestyle. There is no cure for coronary artery disease. In order to prevent the progression of this disease, there must be lifestyle changes so the heart does not have to work as hard. For example:

  • Stop smoking, as it is directly related to an increased risk of heart attack and its complications.
  • Lower high blood cholesterol. Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan. When proper eating
  • does not control cholesterol levels, medication is prescribed.
  • Control high blood pressure. A healthy diet, low sodium, exercise, and medications can help.
  • Maintain diabetes control through diet, exercise, and medications.
  • Follow an exercise plan to improve energy and overall health. Always check with the doctor first.
  • Control stress and anger with skills such as time management, relaxation, or yoga.

Get regular heart check-ups. Your loved one should make a doctor's appointment four to six weeks after leaving the hospital, or as the physician directs, to check the progress of his or her recovery. The doctor may also recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program in a medically supervised setting.

Comfort Keepers® can help. Comfort Keepers®’ Interactive Caregiving™ keeps senior clients engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally while living independently at home. Call your local office today to find out more about the ways we can help during the recovery process.


American Heart Association. “Heart Attack Recovery FAQs”. Web. 2015

Cleveland Clinic. “Heart Attack Recovery”. Web. 2015. “Changes to Make in Your Life After a Heart Attack”. Web. 2015.

American Heart Association. (2013). Older Americans & cardiovascular diseases. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (October 29, 2014). Heart disease facts. Retrieved from

Cleveland Clinic. (December 2013). Vitamin D & heart disease. Retrieved from

Kim, S.M. and Han H. (2013). Evidence-based strategies to reduce readmission in patients with heart failure. Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 9(4), 224-232. Retrieved from


Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative. (June 2010). PRHI Readmission Briefs: Brief 1: Overview of six target chronic diseases. Retrieved from

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (February 2013). The revolving door: A report on U.S. hospital readmissions. Retrieved from Heart Association. “What is Cardiovascular Disease?” Web. 2016.

Prevention. “The 25 Best Foods for Your Heart” by Deborah Hastings. Web. 2013.

WebMD. “Top 11 Heart-Healthy Foods” by Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD. Web. 2016.


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