It’s a scary situation to be in, but millions of family caregivers who see their elderly loved one in pain and distress frequently wonder to themselves whether they are having a heart attack. Instead of worrying about whether to call for emergency medical help, family caregivers can learn the symptoms of a heart attack and feel confident in reaching for the phone quickly to summon help.
Most people think that there is only one heart attack symptom—a sharp pain in the chest. However, there are other signs that indicate that an elderly adult is experiencing a heart attack.
The most common symptoms for a heart attack in aging adults are the following:
- Chest pain, particularly on the left side of the body
- Pressure or discomfort in the chest, neck, shoulder and jaw
- A feeling of squeezing or fullness in the torso
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking into a cold sweat
- Light-headedness or dizziness
While chest pain is the most obvious, it’s possible that an elderly person can have a heart attack without feeling that particular symptom. Instead of wondering whether their aging relative is just not feeling well, family caregivers can understand that a heart attack may be in progress and that they need to call 911. Family caregivers should also educate others who might be caring for the aging adult, such as other family members, friends and home care providers.
Early treatment for a heart attack can save an elderly adult’s life, so family caregivers and home care providers need to act quickly if they suspect that is what’s happening. During a heart attack, the blood flow is cut off from the heart. The heart cells begin to die and can eventually lead to cardiac arrest. With fast medical treatment, doctors can open up the vessel and minimize the cell damage to the heart muscle. Aging adults who get early medical treatment for a heart attack have the best chance of surviving.
If an elderly adult is a high risk for a heart attack, family caregivers and home care providers should have a detailed plan in place on what to do if it happens. High-risk seniors include those who smoke and who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Anyone who has survived a stroke or heart attack is also at greater risk of having another.
Because some of the symptoms of a heart attack may seem benign or not that distressful, too many family caregivers don’t understand the urgency and delay seeking out medical help. Of course, this detrimental to the aging adult and can lead to several minutes or even hours without proper care. Even the aging adult may not believe they are having a heart attack and resist efforts to leave for the hospital. If that is the case, family caregivers and home care providers should contact emergency services for immediate medical treatment.