A Heart-Healthy Focus for Veterans and Surviving Spouses
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. and has held this position for the last 20 years. With medical advances, the hope was a decline in cases, but they have nearly doubled from 271 million in 1990 to 523 million in 2019, and the number of heart disease deaths rose from 12.1 million to 18.6 million.
In 2019, heart disease was the underlying cause of 9.6 million deaths among men and 8.9 million deaths among women globally. More than 6 million of those deaths occurred in people between 30 and 70 years of age.
COVID-19 brought a whole new element to diseases in the United States. More than a quarter of deaths, above normal, have been from diseases outside of COVID-19, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, pneumonia, and coronary heart disease, according to a New York Times analysis of estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The fear of contracting Covid-19 has prevented many women and men from seeking professional advice about their medical condition. As a result, conditions like heart disease have gone untreated. According to the CDC, an estimated 40.9% of U.S. adults have avoided medical care during the pandemic because of concerns about COVID-19, including 12.0% who avoided urgent or emergency care and 31.5% who avoided routine care.
Being aware of the warning signs of heart attacks and seeing a doctor when symptoms occur will help Veterans and surviving spouses reduce their risk of heart disease.
Risk factors for heart disease increase when women reach menopause, with an overall increase in heart attacks about 10 years after menopause. Researchers suspect that the lower estrogen levels may contribute to the higher risk factors.3
What are the symptoms?
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Ensuring that they get the care they need can absolutely make a difference in the lives of surviving spouses and Veterans.
This is why heart health is such an important initiative and why we’ve designated February as Hearts of Heroes month at VCC. We’re raising awareness about Veterans and surviving spouses heart health and how home care services can help manage and minimize the symptoms of heart-related illnesses. It’s our mission to improve Veterans and Surviving Spouses lives with non-service-related heart conditions which could be eligible for VA benefits to help pay for home care services such as:
- Meal Preparation: those who suffer from obesity are at an increased risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a heart-related illness. Preparing nutritious meals will ensure they get the vitamins they need to live a healthier life.
- Companionship: Loneliness is tied to the highest levels of depression and, according to one study, is especially common among older adults. In the case of Veterans, it’s prevalent among those who fought decades ago. These factors can drive elderly Veterans to remedy their loneliness through unhealthy means such as overeating, drinking more alcohol and generally not taking care of themselves. Companionship is arguably one of the most important benefits quality home care can offer an aging loved one.
- Assistance with Activities of Daily Living: For the older population, especially those suffering from heart issues, completing simple tasks can become difficult. Bathing can be a burden for the fear of falling in the shower. Dressing can become a chore when it’s difficult to fasten and unfasten buttons and zippers. And pride in being independent can stop these Veterans or surviving spouses from asking for help even when it’s needed. Home care can help ensure that a loved one is taken care of with the respect they deserve, offering reminders for important tasks such as taking medications and paying bills.
Despite their increased risk of heart disease, there is hope for our aging population. Our partner providers know that VCC’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Veterans and their spouses. We do that by helping those who are eligible obtain benefits to ease the financial burden of paying for much-needed home care.
This month, we’re focusing on Hearts of Heroes, sharing heart-healthy tips, and working to ensure that our Veterans have access to the home care they need in order to lead healthy lives.
 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, December 9, 2020