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Seniors & Afib: What Caregivers Should Know

For most people, a heartbeat happens without much thought. In fact, on average, your heart beats about 100,000 times per day. When everything is working properly, these beats go unnoticed; however, when an elderly person has an irregular heartbeat, he or she should certainly take note. This condition, atrial fibrillation, can lead to serious consequences. With this in mind, it is important to understand the symptoms and risks of afib.

According to the National Institutes of Health, atrial fibrillation, also known as Afib or “heart flutters,” happens when a person’s heartbeat is irregular and fast. Typically, the four chambers of the heart work in unison. An electrical signal will tell your heart when to pump blood and how much to pump at any given time. When these electrical impulses are irregular, then you will have an irregular heartbeat.

Afib in Older Adults

While anyone of any age can have an irregular heartbeat, as you age, it becomes more common. There are many causes of Afib including drinking alcohol to access, hypertension and an overactive thyroid gland. The major concern for the senior with Afib is stroke as an Afib patient is at five times greater risk of having a stroke than an individual without Afib.

Typically, a blood thinner is given to the patient to reduce this risk, but the risk of stroke must be offset with the risk of hemorrhage due to the use of anticoagulation medicines. So it is important for the caregiver be sure to keep a close eye when providing assisted care for the aging. Heart flutter symptoms need to be watched carefully and reported as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

There are several symptoms that a caregiver should watch for in a loved one with A-fib. These include:

  • Racing heartbeat – As part of an in-home care plan for aging individuals with an irregular heartbeat, be sure to take your loved one’s pulse on a regular basis. If you notice a fast resting pulse race, you should plan to give the doctor a call.
  • Light-Headedness – If the elderly patient complains of being lightheaded or tired after a short walk or other mild activity, it can be a sign of Afib. When this happens, be sure to check their pulse rate. If it is high, report it to a doctor right away. This could indicate that their medicines are not working properly. (
  • Shortness of Breath – Shortness of breath can sometimes be a side effect of Afib. While simply being out of shape can cause a person to be out of breath walking up stairs or lifting heavy objects, if it is worse than normal or a new symptom, it needs to be reported to a doctor immediately.
  • Swelling of the Shins – While not a common side effect, swelling of the shins can be a result of Afib when the Afib is causing heart failure. This needs to be responded to immediately.

It is important to watch closely for signs of Afib when you are a caregiver for a senior. Heart flutter, or Afib, even when being treated can and often does return, and it tends to worsen over time as well.

That said, a good understanding of A-ib and keeping a close eye on an elder patient with the condition can keep the disease regulated which in turn will provide the patient a good quality of life.