Heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, are traumatic events that can permanently affect the patient’s lifestyle. Suddenly, new medications, dietary changes, exercise regimens, and more frequent medical appointments and tests become part of their “new normal” as they work through their recovery.
While the physical consequences of a heart attack are well-documented, it’s essential to also understand the intricate relationship between cardiac events and depression.
How are heart attacks and depression related?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart muscle becomes blocked, often due to the buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) in the coronary arteries. The sudden deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can cause irreversible damage to the heart tissue, leading to a cascade of immediate physiological responses, such as inflammation, oxidative stress, and the release of stress hormones.
The brain and the heart are intimately connected through the circulatory system. When the heart experiences distress, it sends signals to the brain, triggering a release of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. This intricate communication can have profound effects on mood regulation and emotional well-being. In the aftermath of a severe heart incident, changes in brain chemistry may contribute to the development of depressive symptoms in older individuals.
Psychological factors can also add to the risk of depression, such as one’s realization of mortality, the fear of future health complications, and the numerous adjustments required in their daily life. In addition, the physical limitations imposed by a heart attack, such as reduced mobility and energy levels, can lead to a sense of helplessness and dependence that heightens the chances of your older loved one presenting depressive symptoms.
Heart attacks and social isolation
Older adults often participate in social networks that are crucial to their overall well-being. A dangerous heart incident can disrupt these networks, leading to social isolation and a diminished quality of life. The recovery process may necessitate lifestyle changes that limit social activities and potentially strain relationships.
The stigma surrounding mental health in many societies further complicates the situation. Older adults may be hesitant to share their feelings of depression, fearing judgment or the perception of weakness, which can exacerbate the social isolation already triggered by the physical and psychological consequences of a heart attack.
What are the signs of depression in older adults?
As your loved one’s family caregiver, you want to protect their overall well-being and mental health. Here are the symptoms of depression to watch out for, whether or not they’ve had a heart attack:
- Noticeable changes in appetite or weight
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Difficulty with memory, focusing, or decision-making
- Changes to sleeping habits
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Signs of restlessness or sluggishness
If you suspect your loved one is suffering from depression, talk to their primary healthcare provider as soon as possible. They will be able to create an effective treatment plan that acknowledges the interconnected nature of physical and mental health and addresses the unique challenges your loved one faces as they recover from their heart attack.
Supporting your older loved one with depression
There are many things you can do to help your loved one feel loved and supported while experiencing depression after a heart attack, such as:
Listen to them
Many people with depression need to have their feelings validated. Take the time to listen closely when they express their thoughts or feelings, and avoid offering opinions or judgments. Showing empathy and understanding at this time will help them heal.
Provide positive reinforcement
Offer gentle reminders about their positive qualities and how important they are to others. Be sure to provide positive reinforcement when they judge themselves too harshly.
Spend time doing things together
Offer to go on a walk with them, chat over coffee, or enjoy a fun activity or hobby together. Don’t force the issue if they resist, but always leave the invitation open.
Your loved one will appreciate your honest efforts to support them and feel reassured that they’re not alone in this.
Remember, you’re not alone in this, either. When you need support with elder care on a full-time, part-time, or respite basis, CareHop is ready to help.
Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services when your family needs support to help your elderly loved one live at home independently and with optimal health through proper care and nutrition.
Our caregivers provide professional in-home nursing care, PSW services, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that focuses on your loved one’s specific needs. We also offer in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship so they can enjoy their vintage years with the highest quality of life possible.
CareHop’s elder care services are designed to positively impact your loved one’s life throughout the year or at certain times when you need us the most.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.