Bursack: Dr. Stork talks about elder heart health
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
Dear Readers: February is Heart Health Month. With this in mind, Dr. Travis Stork, co-host of the award winning talk show “The Doctors,” agreed to a telephone interview with four writers, so he could answer our questions about heart health.
Dr. Stork is a practicing ER doctor and faculty physician in the emergency department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
When asked for one important change that he would suggest people make in their daily routine, Dr. Stork replied without hesitation, “walk at least 30 minutes a day.” He considers exercise one of the most important routes to good health.
Most of us know the risk factors for heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, untreated diabetes, stress and lack of regular exercise. Most of us also know the typical symptoms of a heart problem. These include chest discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and then returns, pain in one or both arms or the back, shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea and/or lightheadedness. However, there are more vague signs we need to be aware of such as indigestion, pain and discomfort in the stomach, headaches and fatigue.
Dr. Stork said that people come in to the ER and say “I just don’t feel right.” If you have a gut feeling that something is “different,” you should get checked out immediately. Get to know the signs of heart problems and become familiar with your body. Then, you’ll have a better feel for whether or not you are in danger. Of course, when in doubt, find someone to get you to the emergency room.
I asked Dr. Stork about the subtle signs of heart problems that elders can exhibit. When do we know if they are in trouble? A trip to ER can be traumatic for an elder, particularly one who has dementia, so we don’t make that decision easily. Again, Dr. Stork suggests that you watch for something very different in how they feel, especially overwhelming weakness. However, with elders, too, if your loved one says he or she doesn’t feel “right,” that may be a sign of a heart attack.
When I questioned Dr. Stork further about taking elders to the ER, he emphasized the importance of a family member or caregiver coming in with them. This attitude reflects the fact that medical people have recognized the huge role caregivers play in the team effort to care for vulnerable people.
Caregivers can make a vital difference when it comes to the ER experience of those they care for. Be prepared with pertinent information, remain calm and give the medical team the help they need. They will appreciate your help.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.