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What can I do to help?

Caring for someone can feel like a big responsibility. It’s only natural to worry. The good news is that many people who have AF can live active and happy lives. Here is some practical advice to help.

Know the facts about the atrial fibrillation (AF)

Unfortunately AF brings an increased risk of stroke. Learn more about this, and how the risk can be reduced. Making sure the person you care for takes their medication as prescribed by their doctor is probably the most important single thing you can do for them.

Know that taking care of yourself is also a priority

The responsibility for another person’s wellbeing can become a heavy weight. Everybody reacts differently of course, but it can feel like you are bottling up your emotions.

Although it sounds very simple, being able to share your feelings and worries with others can make all the difference. Telling someone how you feel, can be like taking a load off your shoulders. And it’s good to have more than one person you can do this with.

Senior ladies having breakfast

It’s tremendously helpful to stay connected with others around you, to remind you that there is another you, beyond the one who is providing care and attention. There’s nothing selfish about this as it replenishes the energy you need to be a supportive on a daily basis.

Taking precautions against bleeding

If the person you are caring for has AF it is likely they will have been prescribed an anticoagulant. This treatment is important because it prevents the formation of blood clots, which may cause a stroke. However this also means that situations which may lead to bleeding should be avoided.1

Tips to preventing the person you care for having accidental bleeds

  • If you are cutting their nails, for example, you must take extra care. Similarly knives, scissors or similar sharp objects may all present dangers, and are best kept put away.
  • If you are shaving the person use an electric razor, to prevent nicks and cuts.
  • Gums can also bleed so soft toothbrush and waxed dental floss will help here. Toothpicks should be avoided. And if the person you are caring for has a dental appointment, even if it is just for cleaning, please tell the dentist that they are taking an anticoagulant agent.
  • Remind the person to wear gloves when gardening or using sharp tools
  • Take extra care when trimming corns and calluses.

Preventing falls

Safety rails in a bathroom

Of course as a carer you will be aware of the importance of preventing falls. A fall can cause internal bleeding, which is dangerous for anyone, but particularly for people who take anticlotting medicines. Here are some risks which you may wish to counter for the person you care for.2

Risk Prevention
Lack of support in the bathroom, shower and toilet. Install grab bars and use nonslip mats or non-skid strips. For the toilet use grab bars or a raised toilet seat.
Climbing the stairs Install handrails on both sides of the stairs.
Dark passages or stairways Install brighter lights and have switches at both ends.
Objects in the way; such as books, clothes, newspapers, and shoes Keep things tidy and pathways clear.
Sliding rugs Remove them or tape them securely to the floor.
Items out of reach Think about where you keep things you frequently use and bring them easily within reach.

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1. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Blood thinner pills: your guide to using them safely. http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/btpills.htm. Accessed 9 May 2010.
2. http://www.va.gov/ncps/SafetyTopics/fallstoolkit/media/fall_prevention_at_home.pdf Accessed 17 May 2011