Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately 17.9 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2019, and 85% of those deaths were caused by heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders that affect the heart and blood vessels. They may affect the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart, brain, and limbs. They may also cause blood clots in the body or simply be damaging to the heart muscle, heart valves, or structure of the heart.
When a patient suffers from a cardiovascular disease, it may have a significant impact on their physical and psychological health. Patients who have a cardiovascular disease may experience fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, anxiety, memory and concentration problems, and difficulty participating in everyday activities. Cardiovascular disease is a serious and often emotionally distressing condition that can result in functional limitations.
Doctors will often recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program for patients coping with any type of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that consists of exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help patients become active again. Cardiac rehabilitation helps men and women of all ages with a range of mild, moderate, and severe heart problems.
Occupational therapy plays an important role in a cardiac rehabilitation program, and its benefits for patients in cardiac care are significant. Occupational therapists help patients who are struggling with physical or psychological limitations achieve their full potential by teaching them skills and strategies they can use to participate fully in daily life. A key aspect of cardiac care is that treats the patient as a whole person. Through occupational therapy, patients in cardiac care are encouraged to become not only independent but also empowered to participate in the activities they value most.
The Benefits of Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists can help patients with cardiovascular disease in the following ways and more:
The occupational therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of the patient’s physical and psychological functioning while also seeking to understand the social supports they have in the hospital, home, or community. From this initial evaluation, occupational therapists can work with the care team in the cardiac rehabilitation program to create individualized treatment plans for patients to address their specific needs.
Occupational therapists can teach patients how to monitor their blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate. Patients need to know how to monitor their heart disease in order to manage the condition well, prevent it from getting worse, and ensure their own safety. Patients need to be proactive about managing their heart condition and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms that may require immediate medical attention.
Exercise is especially important in cardiac rehabilitation because it can improve heart health. Unfortunately, many people lead sedentary lifestyles and don’t participate in enough aerobic exercise to promote a healthy heart and reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease. Occupational therapists will be able to recommend appropriate levels and intensity of exercises for patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program, the right amount of exercise that will help them get in better shape and strengthen their muscles without stretching them beyond their capabilities.
Stress can exacerbate heart conditions and make many of the activities of daily living more difficult. Occupational therapists look at stress in the context of the patient’s life, environment, and cardiovascular disease. They have an array of tools to help patients manage their stress better, including teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, behavior modifications, environmental modifications, cognitive restructuring, and energy conservation techniques. Occupational therapists can also teach patients how to relieve the stress associated with feeling pain or discomfort.
Having a cardiovascular condition can prevent the patient from carrying out daily activities that make it possible to live independently like cooking, showering, or doing laundry. Patients may have less strength and endurance and may even have trouble breathing because of their cardiovascular disease. Occupational therapists can help patients employ compensatory strategies to regain the ability to carry out certain activities, including finding new ways of doing things or using adaptive equipment. Example: teaching the patient to sit in a chair instead of standing while doing laundry to help them conserve energy.
Return to Work
Research has shown that work is beneficial to mental health and well-being, but patients with cardiovascular disease may feel conflicted about whether to return to work and how to return. Occupational therapists can evaluate the types of work the patient may want to pursue and the patient’s capacities. Some questions the occupational therapist and the patient might discuss are:
- What type of work do you want to do?
- What kind of assistance will you need to return to work?
- How can we adapt the office environment to suit your situation?
- What new roles might you want to consider given your medical diagnosis?
The OT can then give advice to the patient on the best way to return to work after suffering a cardiovascular condition and even work collaboratively with employers to plan the patient’s return to work.
Cardiovascular disease can result in many complications in the patient’s life, but there is plenty of hope for patients with even the most severe conditions. It’s very much possible for the patient to improve their life dramatically---especially under the supervision of a cardiac rehabilitation team that includes an occupational therapist. A cardiovascular rehabilitation program promotes a lifestyle change that teaches patients the skills they need to stay healthy. The benefits of occupational therapy include helping patients regain participation in the activities that make them independent and productive members of society.
Learning how to function with limitations in physical capabilities and with the psychological duress that often accompanies cardiovascular disease is a gradual process that takes deliberate effort. There will be progress, setbacks, and struggles. It is a journey that’s both challenging and rewarding. Having the right team of experts on your side makes a big difference in your success. Our cardiac rehab team can design a customized program for your care. Learn more about Rehab Select’s cardiovascular rehabilitation program by scheduling a tour.