"The Heart Truth" Exhibit Has Important Self-Care Tips that Women in Caregiving Roles Need
In most situations related to Alzheimer’s disease, women take the lead in providing care to loved ones. And caregiving for a loved one with dementia is a very stressful job. Therefore, without realizing it, many women who serve as caregivers can find their own health put at risk.
That’s why I wanted to share a little information I gleaned from last weekend’s tour of “The Heart Truth” exhibit at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University. The travelling exhibit, which was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, focuses on helping women understand that heart disease is the number one killer of women (even more so than cancer).
According to the exhibit, two of many factors make women who are caregivers at risk for developing coronary heart disease. One of these factors is age . According to an exhibit brochure, “That’s because, after menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease. In part, this occurs because a woman’s production of estrogen drops. Also, middle age is a time when women tend to develop other risk factors for heart disease.” I think this factor is important to realize since it's often during this time of our lives that we step into the caregiving role, often continuing to put another's needs before our own. Another factor for heart disease in women is stress/depression (which often comes with caregiving).
The scary part of heart disease is that it is a life-long disease. Procedures can help, but the arteries themselves will remain damaged. Blood vessels will steadily worsen until you make changes in daily lifestyle choices. This is important since “many heart disease risk factors can be controlled by making changes in your lifestyle and, in some cases, by taking medication,” the exhibit brochure said. Risk factors you can control include:
- Smoking. “There is simply no safe way to smoke,” the brochure states. “But the rewards of quitting are enormous. Just 1 year after you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will drop by more than half.”
- High blood pressure. High blood pressure as well as prehypertension increases a woman’s risk of heart disease.
- High blood cholesterol.
- Physical inactivity. “Not getting regular physical activity increases your risk for heart disease, as well as other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight,” the brochure said.
Taking action to prevent heart disease is really important (even while you’re caregiving). “Research shows that women can lower their heart disease risk enormously – by 82 percent – simply by leading a healthy lifestyle,” the brochure said. “In most cases, that means following a heart healthy eating plan, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.”
The Heart Truth exhibit provides a great wealth of knowledge that can help a woman take good care of herself while she also takes care of a loved one with dementia. And the exhibit has the added attraction of seeing fabulous red dresses worn by current and former First Ladies as well as celebrities. If you get a chance, try to go see this exhibit, whether it’s at the Bush Library (through August 2011) or at a museum closer to you.