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Healthy habits for heart health

Caregiving is a loving, selfless and rewarding endeavor, but those who’ve done it know it’s also a lot of work

Maintaining a household is hard enough, with the cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning.  But doing all that while managing a loved one’s health -- their physical and emotional well-being -- leaves little time for self-care. It can often seem like there’s no way to rest, recharge and take time for yourself.

The stress can build, leading to loss of sleep, anxiety and depression. The caregiver’s physical health suffers too. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Humana member Irena knows this all too well. She’s a full-time caregiver for her husband, who has dementia, and the stress was catching up to her. She had always been active and healthy -- practicing yoga, walking and strength training at home -- but the demands of full-time caregiving had strained her emotions and driven up her blood pressure.

When she received a postcard in late 2019 from the Humana Neighborhood Center, offering a class called “Helping a loved one with dementia,” she immediately signed up. That’s where she met Ada, a Humana Neighborhood Center health educator at the center.

After the class, Irena asked to speak with Ada one on one, and that became the first of several trustful, helpful conversations. She learned to share her concerns, especially her stress and worry over her rising blood pressure.

Together, they reviewed tips on how to help a loved one with dementia, from organizing daily schedules to ways of communication. They also discussed ways to better manage her stress by recognizing her current stressors, adding positive thoughts, practicing mindfulness, and starting a journal to record her thoughts.

In addition, they discussed nutritional tips, exercise and a class handout called "Simple changes for managing high blood pressure."

Soon, Irena started writing regularly in a journal, and she found travel videos of places she and her husband have visited, giving them something enjoyable to watch together.

After several weeks, she reported that her stress level had significantly decreased, she felt more confident communicating with her husband, and her blood pressure was back within normal range.

Those habits have been especially helpful during the pandemic. Irena walks every morning and loves to cook, but she misses parts of her pre-COVID routine like going to her Humana Neighborhood Center to learn new healthy recipes. She has family nearby, but they’re doing their best to stay socially distanced and only see each other outdoors. That means she’s home, caring for her husband, all the time. And she’s using the habits Ada helped her establish to manage her stress and blood pressure during an extra challenging time.

Ada benefitted too, feeling empowered to support Irena’s health and well-being. She’s enjoyed watching Irena find a sense of peace and calm.

“She started to collect positive quotes each day,” Ada said. “To show her appreciation for the inspiration and the healthy changes she had made, she shared this quote with me: ‘Health does not always come from medicine. Most of the time it comes from peace of mind, peace in heart, peace of soul. It comes from laughter and love.’” 

Humana health benefit plans have exclusions and limitations and terms under which the coverage may be continued in force or discontinued. For costs and complete details of the coverage, call or write your Humana insurance agent or the company.

Your results may vary. It may not be typical to reduce blood pressure by taking the actions Irena did.

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