To prepare heart failure patients and their loved ones for the holidays, I recently wrote a post that was meant to help heart failure patients observe their sodium restrictions during the holiday season. The post also discussed some common sense tips regarding alcohol limitations for heart patients. At the time, I thought that was the extent of my holiday tips for heart failure patients.
But as I started to prepare my own Christmas gift list, I realized that I would be doing a great disservice if I failed to provide some suggestions for gifts for the heart failure patient. I have my own thoughts on this topic, especially after having lived with the condition of heart failure for over 3 years. But I also searched the web and came across some gift suggestions that are common to a number of websites.
My first suggestion is one of my own, and I haven’t seen it listed on any other website. I have reached the point where I hate to use a can opener, or even open cans that have little tabs that you can lift up to pull the top off. Why? Because there is always a little jagged edge that just seems to find a finger or the side of my hand. Given the fact that I take low dose aspirin daily, the blood seems to flow like a river from the cut. As hard as I try to use fresh or frozen foods, there are just some things that you need to get from a can. So I put on my Christmas list a can opener that crimps the edges so that there are no raw sharp edges. There are a number of brands for such can openers, and the descriptions say things like: “the stainless steel cutting wheel won't leave sharp edges” and “built-in pliers allow for fingers-free lid removal.” What a great device!
My next suggestion, which is also one of my own, is a blood pressure monitor. From everything I have examined regarding heart failure, it would appear that it is not a good thing if the patient's blood pressure is too high, or like mine, is at the other extreme and almost non-existent. So it becomes important to keep track of these numbers. If the heart failure patient has a cardiac implantable device, it is possible that the system to monitor the device remotely includes a scale to check weight and a blood pressure monitor. But if not, there are a number of monitors that are available in any number of budgets. My doctors recommend the Omron 7.
Another suggestion I have is perhaps a really attractive journal. The heart failure patient can use this to either write about their personal journey with heart failure, which can be a cathartic, moving experience. Or the journal can be useful to keep track of vital signs and doctors’ instructions. Or you can write down any affirmations that might keep you in a more positive frame of mind about your journey, or that reflect on your conversations with God. I have found journals with covers that have a lot of different themes, so I suspect you can find a journal to appeal to just about every heart failure patient in the spectrum.
As I have mentioned in many posts, all the guidance I have reviewed on managing heart failure includes getting physical exercise to condition your heart. Consequently, many websites recommend getting workout clothes/shoes for the heart failure patient. I can endorse this suggestion, as I asked for workout shoes last year, and workout clothes this year. If you’re going to have to be in a gym or outside exercising, don’t you want to look put together and stylish? The array of fitness wear options out there is mind-boggling, and again, they are available in every budget.
It appears that I am not the only heart failure patient who endorses the benefits of a yoga workout. I have seen yoga workouts/equipment on a number of lists. I firmly believe that a good yoga routine helps still the mind from worrying about the trajectory of your condition. There are also routines which involve more flow and as a result, are more cardio oriented. So how can a yoga student lose? You can give gift certificates for classes. I would make sure that the yoga provider has a variety of classes, and I would avoid giving a gift certificate for a class of an intense type of yoga like bikram or hot yoga. Aim for something more like vinyasa yoga or yin yoga. You might also check out the instructors to see if they can accommodate a student who has heart failure, by helping him or her find alternate poses when needed. Additionally, the Washington Post Health section this week mentioned the option of engaging a yoga therapist (who knew that yoga therapists existed?) You can also give a gift certificate for yoga gear like mats, bolsters and blocks.
I also have seen suggestions for gift certificates to gyms. This is another idea I think is useful, as anything that helps the heart failure patient condition the heart is good. But again there are some caveats (I’m a lawyer, so I always have caveats). I would make sure that the gym is in a location that is convenient to the patient. Sometimes the wear and tear of having to figure out how to get somewhere you are not familiar with, or a location that is not near your home may mean that the gift certificate could go to waste. Second, I would make sure that this is not a gym that just offers classes. For example, there is a local gym where I live that has a lot of great equipment, but the members have to exercise together as a class and attain a specific heart rate. First, because beta blockers likely blunt the heart failure patient's heart rate so it might be difficult to meet this requirement. Second, the heart failure patient needs a more basic and probably individualized workout – like walking on a treadmill, hopping on an elliptical or ab exercise bike, etc. The heart failure patient is not looking to compete in an Olympic event.
Another popular item on gift suggestion lists is a fitness tracker. I used one of these for a while and I really liked it. But one downside to the one I used continually encouraged me to beat my record from the previous day. Again, I’m trying to condition my heart to keep my heart failure from progressing. I’m not a marathon candidate. So I just ignored this. I think there are a variety of styles out there, with a variety of features. We’re all different in what we like, so maybe the suggestion might be to give a gift certificate to something like a Best Buy, with a picture of a fitness tracker. Then the heart failure patient can look at all the models and makes and see which one fits his or her needs.
Heart failure patients have to be careful if they go out in winter weather. Taking in cold air can impact a heart that is challenged by a poor pumping capacity. It helps to be bundled up, especially around the mouth and nose area. I have found that a knit cowl is very effective if I am forced to go out in the worst winter weather. The two cowls I have, which were made for me by a loved one, are like tubes that you pull over your head and then position around your neck. You can then pull the cowl up over your mouth and nose area and it will keep the cold away from your mouth and nose, so that the air I am breathing in will be warmer. I can also pull it up onto the top of my head, so it not only covers my mouth and nose but frames and protects my head and face. I find this much more effective than a hat in windy weather because the hat can be blown off of my head. The cowl stays securely in place.
It can be challenging for a heart patient to maintain a low sodium diet especially if he or she was used to using processed, frozen or prepared foods. The best bet is to switch to using as much fresh food and fresh meats and fish as possible. It will help to have a source of recipes that are low sodium. If you google the term “low sodium cookbooks” you will find a number of cookbooks that you can give to the heart failure patient who has decided to become his or her own chef.
My family still has the tradition of hanging up Christmas stockings. If you have the same tradition, here are a few stocking stuffers for the heart failure patient. Pill organizers are good compact devices that allow you to apportion your pills for the day. I actually use two organizers to separate out my morning pills and my evening pills. It is good to have extra pill organizers on hand because after all, they are just made out of plastic. You can only open and close the daily pill compartments so many times before they start to break apart and you need a new one. Finally, most heart failure patients have medical conditions that medical professionals need to know about if they are taken to an emergency room. So if you are familiar with the details of the condition, a medical necklace or bracelet would also be a good stocking stuffer.
I hope these ideas have been useful for those who are shopping for a heart failure patient. But to me, the bottom line is that if you give them a gift it doesn’t matter what it is. Or even if you don’t give them a gift but just send a card, or meet them for a holiday lunch, or make them cookies, or just spend time with them – the heart failure patient will know that you are thinking of them and are cheering them on as they fight the biggest battle of their life. And that my friend will be the best gift ever.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.