It’s that wonderful time of year again.  Holiday parties and family gatherings and lots and lots of delicious food.  For many of us, over-indulging leaves us feeling sluggish and uncomfortable.  For elders in our care who have heart failure, overeating or drinking can be dangerous.

What is CHF?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is when the heart muscle isn’t strong enough to pump blood as it should.  If uncontrolled, fluid builds up in the feet, legs, and abdomen.  It causes fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and other dangerous symptoms.   It is usually treated with medication, but nutrition plays a significant role in managing heart failure.

  • Acute CHF events contributed to over 4,071,000 emergency room visits in 2014, with a price tag of over $11 billion dollars.

Informed Choice

It’s vital that the elder take an active role in managing their heart failure to avoid hospitalization or other consequences.  But medical experts believe that many CHF patients don’t have a basic understanding of the disease and what can be done to improve outcomes. 

Caregivers are the key to educating their clients about lifestyle and food choices that can help or hinder the elder’s well-being.  Empowering an elder to make informed choices about meals provides a sense of control and honors their wishes.

Caregivers can educate elders on food and lifestyle choices that can help improve health outcomes and reduce complications of heart failure.

Enjoy in Moderation

Favorite foods bring back memories and provide a sense of comfort to many elders.  Caregivers can help them to enjoy favorites, but some may need to be modified.  For instance:

  • It’s important to limit high sodium foods like frozen or prepackaged meals or canned soups.   
  • Choosing alternative seasonings like herbs, spices, citrus, and pepper will still give food great flavor without added salt.
  • Sweets and foods high in sugar should be enjoyed in moderation, as they raise blood pressure, making CHF worse.  
  • Alcohol is especially dangerous and can interact with medication, add empty calories but no nutrition and add extra fluids, which may be restricted.

How Can You Help?

For clients in your care with CHF, here are a few ways to make mealtime safer.

  • Review the care plan of clients with heart disease.  Are there special dietary recommendations from the medical team?  Has the direct care staff been informed?   Do they have the skills to comply?
  • Training is key!  Of caregivers enrolled in a Mealtime with Cardiovascular Disease training course, less than 50% could identify high sodium foods (from a list of foods) before completing the training.  Don’t assume staff understand how certain foods, excess fluids and alcohol worsen symptoms and put the elder at risk for entering the hospital.
  • Enlist caregivers to encourage their clients to take an active role in managing CHF.  Activities like planning meals and even cooking together can strengthen the bond and give caregivers a platform to educate on healthier choices.  Many elders respond positivity to advice and encouragement from a trusted caregiver.

Chef Beth + ITK

In the Know is proud to offer Chef Beth’s Culinary Skills for Caregivers℠ training series to our online learning library. For more tips like these, search for and assign the course, “Mealtime with Cardiovascular Disease.”

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About Chef Beth

Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author, and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care.   She can be reached at


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