Family Caregiver Tips to Help Seniors Manage Blood Pressure & Develop Heart-Healthy Habits

At some point in life, almost all U.S. adults provide caregiving for a loved one. How do you use technology and habit formation to make the task less complex, less stressful and less time-demanding?

At some point in life, most of us are put in the role of caring for the elderly. Whether you are the caregiver for a parent, grandparent, or spouse, you are faced with providing the best care you can for your loved one. Or, you may be in a vocational role that requires you to assist seniors.

caregiver tips to help seniors with high blood pressure

Some Relevant Facts About Family Caregivers and Older Care Recipients

  • Over 75% of U.S. adults age 65 and older are living with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.
  • The majority of family caregivers (60%) caring for adults in 2014 were employed either full time or part time, placing competing demands on the caregivers’ time.
  • Family caregivers are more likely than other adults to use the Internet and apps to gather and track health information (75% vs 50%).
  • Medication management is one area where family caregivers are not using technology (7%) but want to (39%).
  • Family caregiving can be less stressful and more successful when the focus for the patient and the caregiver is on living well and enhancing quality of life, rather than managing the symptoms of being sick or aging in place.
  • Older adults are better able to form habits to maintain health when they understand their condition and receive positive interactions for managing it as opposed to prescription and admonishments.

Whatever your family caregiving situation, it is important to know what methods are effective in helping seniors develop and maintain healthy habits. At the top of this list for seniors is managing blood pressure.

Why Start With Blood Pressure Management?

When and how often should you take BP at home

Self-Monitoring Can Save Lives

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the silent killer. It often doesn’t give any early warning signs. Over 80% of the 350,000 Americans who die every year from high blood pressure-related issues could have been saved if they had adequate warning.This warning comes with at home self-monitoring. Using an inexpensive BP monitoring device and an app can help your loved one and their doctor spot early warning signs of heart risk.

Medications Management Is Key

Chronotherapy BP medication scheduling

Studies have shown that 25% of patients who have high blood pressure don’t take their medications properly. They either don’t take them at all or only part of the time.If seniors have been prescribed blood pressure medication, helping them to understand why they take it (challenging since they have no high blood pressure symptoms) is an important part of their overall heart health management. Establishing habits of taking medication regularly is key. The medication reminder functionality of Hello Heart is design with this in mind.

medication reminders make it easier to form habits

How To Start With Blood Pressure Management

Creating healthy habits can be challenging. To be successful, it is important to implement effective methods. Start with this process:

Consider, Prepare, Act, Maintain & Reward

This four-step process will help establish the habits your loved one needs to form, and remove barriers that might inhibit them from staying on track.

  • Consider – Decide what new habit you want to form. Jot down the reasons you want to develop this new habit. For example, it might be that you want to reduce your blood pressure enough so you can stop taking medications. Or you might want to increase your overall level of energy. Or maybe you want to make sure you are healthy and able to see your kids get married. Your motivations are personal and and only you can decide what things could really make a difference in your life if you managed your BP.
  • Prepare – Now jot down a list of 3-5 things that might get in the way of reaching your goal. Then come up with ideas to work around or push past these barriers. If “Blood pressure monitoring is not a priority for my loved one” is on the list, educate them on the importance of this habit. Stress that monitoring blood pressure can lower their BP by 9 points. It may be able to free them from medications. It will give them a greater quality of life as they reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Act – Put your plan into action. Take the steps needed to assist your loved one in developing this habit. Purchase the blood pressure monitor. Educate them on proper use. Help them download Hello Heart app (iOS, Android) so they can track their progress and meds.
  • Maintain & Reward – Once a senior is on a healthy track, take steps to help them stay there. Help them find ways to reward themselves in healthy ways. Put plans in place to avoid setbacks. For example, establish automatic refills for medications so doses are not missed. Ask them to share their weekly blood pressure report with you, so you can see their progress each week. Reward them verbally when they do a great job. For example: " Great job on taking your meds every day this week! You don’t know how that helps me worry less" or "It look like your blood pressure was a little wobbly this week, but I see you tracked it 4 times. That's great. Are you drinking 8 glasses of water everyday?"

Tips To Create Heart-Healthy Habits In Seniors

Once this healthy overview is established, keep in mind the following:

Interest, not inability, is the barrier

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a myth. It’s not that older people can’t learn something new. In fact, the capacity to learn typically remains at high levels well into our 80s.The problem is usually a lack of interest in learning. Once adulthood is reached, we are forced to learn new things less frequently than we were as children or in school. By the time senior status is reached, many adults have simply lost interest in learning new things. They can easily master using a blood pressure cuff (especially wireless) and a phone for tracking blood pressure, or medication.The trick, then, is to make learning interesting. Make it fun. Make them want to learn.

seniors using mobile app technology

Plans must fit lifestyle needs

Be sure to keep the senior’s lifestyle in mind when establishing habit-forming goals. Know their physical limitations. Assess their resources. Ensure they have all they need to accomplish the task.If you hope to help them form a habit of monitoring their blood pressure, verify they can physically manipulate the device. If adding more vegetables and fruits to every meal is a goal, ensure they have ways to obtain fresh groceries, both financially and physically.

Allow them to participate in goal setting

To form a new habit, the senior performing the task must have ownership of the goal. Forcing change on a senior will not be effective. Discuss changes they would like to see. Then, work together to choose habits that will help them make those changes. Make sure they understand why it is important for them to manage their blood pressure and/or take their meds. Don't tell them. Ask them to explain in their own words. Then ask them what they think they can do to reach this goal.

Be Positive

It is important to remain positive when helping seniors establish new habits. If you are prescriptive, critical and negative, they will most likely simply lie to avoid the criticism (e.g. my mom over the food she ate that week: "Oh no, I didn't eat any sugar cookies. I'm not sure why my glucose was so high").

use positive reinforcement with seniors for new habits

It can be challenging, but if your reward positive changes rather than scold mistakes, small changes start to become habits that can then grow into bigger healthy changes. Always encourage them as they make small steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

Use positive motivation to establish new habits in seniors

Chain Behavior Sequences

Create chains of behavior that trigger the next task. For example, regularly checking blood pressure shortly after waking creates an association between waking and blood pressure monitoring. It will become a habit to do this each morning. Be aware that it takes a few months to become firmly established.Now work on eating a healthy breakfast (oatmeal for example) after checking blood pressure. That could be the next habit in the chain. Once this link has been firmly established, another can be added. Perhaps your loved one takes medications then goes for a short walk after breakfast. Chaining these behaviors together can slowly build into an overall healthy lifestyle. Each behavior is simple on its own, but when combined, they form a very sophisticated lifestyle change.

Follow General Habit-Forming Tips:

  • Start small – Setting small realistic goals may seem boring, but they are more likely to be reached. Rather than starting with a goal of reducing blood pressure by 20 points, start with checking and recording blood pressure every morning. Don’t try to make any changes to diet or exercise. Just record daily. Hello Heart (iOS, Android) can help seniors painlessly reach this goal.
  • Do it daily – Habits are much more likely to stick if a senior remains consistent. Performing a new habit every day will help establish the pattern in their brain. Doing something every few days makes the habit harder to lock in. Daily recordings of blood pressure will keep them in the habit of managing their blood pressure and provide helpful records for their physician.
  • Make it convenient - The easier and more enjoyable a new habit is, the more likely a senior is to continue doing it. For example, to establish the habit of measuring blood pressure daily, use an easy app use an app that makes it incredibly easy.
  • Replace old with new – It’s true that “old habits die hard.” Starting a new habit is usually easier than stopping an old one. So, try doing both at once. Replace a bad old habit with a good new one. Or, use munchies as the trigger for blood pressure monitoring. Instead of reaching for junk food, make this the cue that it’s time to measure their blood pressure.

Other Healthy Senior Habits

Helping seniors establish healthy habits for managing their blood pressure involves all aspects of their lives. Following the previously mentioned guidelines, seek to form habits in the following areas:Incorporate healthy foods into their diet – Vegetables, fiber and water should be the focusIncorporate activity into their routine – 15 minutes of walking per day, simple strength trainingIncorporate blood pressure monitoring into their day – Check blood pressure twice daily, record results, and share with their doctor. Use Hello Heart (iOS, Android) for easy tracking reporitng and reminders.

THE GIST:

  • At some point in life, almost all U.S. adults provide caregiving for a loved one and will use the internet and apps to help make it easier and less time-consuming .
  • Helping seniors develop heart-healthy habits, so they can self manage, is an important part of the family caregiver’s role.
  • Keep in mind the needs, limitations, and personal goals of seniors when encouraging new habits.
  • Try to use carrots, not sticks.
  • Start small with simple habits. When these are firmly established, chain simple habits together.

SourcesFamily Caregivers are Wired for HealthCaregiving in the United States 2015Health Innovation FrontiersValuing the Invaluable 2015 Update