A groundbreaking new treatment, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, offers an alternative for patients with arrhythmia. For the five patients included in the study, who faced risky and difficult heart transplants in the face of irregular heart rhythms, the reduction of arrhythmias was 99.9%– a staggeringly successful number. This treatment has only been performed on five people, but experts in the field—according to The New York Times—are calling it a “game changer.”
As The New York Times points out, Americans who suffer from ventricular tachycardia—sudden bursts of frequent heartbeats, which often scar hearts or can cause sudden death—are not uncommon. Over 300,000 such deaths occur each year in the US.
Caregivers of seniors are no strangers to cardiovascular problems. Many professional caregivers are trained to respond quickly to these issues by rushing patients to a hospital; many seniors are on medications to improve their cardiovascular health. Doctors recommend healthy diets and exercise regimens in order to maintain good heart and lung health. But many still face heart troubles, and this breakthrough has repercussions for seniors and their caregivers alike.
Find the Experts (Or Be One)
If a senior in your care has a family or medical history of ventricular tachycardia—or any kind of heart health issue—they should see a specialist, preferably one who is well-researched in the field. New research like this only reaches those who want to read it or those currently receiving medical training, requiring practicing physicians to put in extra time to learn about the newest, best treatments. Shop for a doctor who takes this kind of work seriously, and if you cannot find one, do your best to become one—an expert in new research, that is. You can set up news alerts for key words, read medical research journals, or visit local universities that often promote and create this type of research regularly.
Look for Medical Trials near You
Not every trial is right for every patient, but the five people who participated in this research received incredible health benefits—essentially ending their episodes of rapid, dangerous heartbeats. Work with a team of caregivers (which needs to include informed physicians) about medical trials in your area. Link up especially with research hospitals and universities, as these are the places where research is often funded. (Washington University in St. Louis, for example, conducted this study.) Enrolling your loved one in experimental trials comes with risks, however, so you should only do so when conventional treatment has not improved their health or poses even more significant risks. Medical trials also should be done with the knowledge of your senior’s primary care and specialist providers, since they know the specifics of their health needs more thoroughly than a research team.
“Work with a team of caregivers (which needs to include informed physicians) about medical trials in your area.”
Plan for the Long Term
If a senior in your care does not have a medical history of significant health problems, they may still see significant health risks in the future. Providing them with proper diet, exercise, social interaction, and intellectual stimulation helps prevent future illnesses and complications. Encouraging an open dialogue about how they are feeling—physically, mentally, emotionally—and how they are behaving with doctors means that signs of serious illness can be detected and treated early.
Understanding family history and keeping on top of preventative care—such as flu shots and regular checkups—can also help keep seniors healthy in the long run. If a senior in your care has a sibling, parent, or grandparent with a hereditary health issue, it is likely they should be screened as well. For example, a family history of colon cancer might lead you to be especially strict about yearly colonoscopies, which could identify colon cancer far before it becomes deadly. Combining a knowledge of yearly, monthly, and daily prevention with family history helps you and your senior’s physicians identify and treat health issues before they become too serious, or keep them healthy enough to recover from serious surgeries or treatments should an emergency arise.
Advocate for Research
In today’s world of interconnectedness, you can hardly move without a new headline or political activity popping up on social media and news outlets. Leverage that access and stay informed about regulations and funding that support research for seniors (or health research in general). You advocate for seniors in your care every day—advocating for all seniors, or all Americans, or all people calls for the same work. Show your support for political candidates and public servants who encourage medical research, decrease healthcare costs for seniors, and support caregivers (professional or non-familial). Voting with your ballot and your money, as well as working for campaigns and informing your community, makes life easier for seniors in your community, state, and region, especially over time.
Keeping on top of research, preventative care, and medical trials sounds like work, and it is. Successful caregivers know the importance of this work and assemble a team to help them do it. Perhaps a family member who works at a university or hospital keeps an eye out for medical trials; a cardiologist reads new research; a professional recommends and maintains healthy living practices, etc. Remember that medical practices are constantly evolving, looking for ways to extend and to improve the lives of seniors. Knowledge and hope are the best tools in a caregiver’s tool belt.
Kolata, Gina. “A ‘Game Changer’ for Patients with Irregular Heart Rhythm.” The New York Times, December 13, 2017.
Phillip S. Cuculich, M.D., Matthew R. Schill, M.D., RojanoKashani, Ph.D., SasaMutic, Ph.D., Adam Lang, M.D., Daniel Cooper, M.D., Mitchell Faddis, M.D., Ph.D., MaryeGleva, M.D., Amit Noheria, M.B., B.S., Timothy W. Smith, M.D., D.Phil., Dennis Hallahan, M.D., Yoram Rudy, Ph.D., and Clifford G. Robinson, M.D. “Noninvasive Cardiac Radiation for Ablation of Ventricular Tachycardia.” N Engl J Med 2017; 377:2325-2336. December 14, 2017. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1613773