Heart failure is a major chronic condition facing many older adults. In fact, over 80% of all heart failure patients are 65 years and older. In heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body. The heart cannot fill with enough blood or pump with enough force, or both. Heart failure is the most common reason for hospital admission in patients over 65 with about 900,000 admissions a year in the US. Because heart failure is a syndrome and not a disease, underlying causes must be sought and determined. Heart failure develops over time as the pumping action of the heart gets weaker. Heart failure among older adults begins with other undiagnosed or poorly managed chronic conditions and is compounded by the effects of aging.
The condition itself can often go undiagnosed, particularly in its early stages. Symptoms of heart failure in elderly patients may include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or altered mentation. Moreover, managing heart failure requires managing other chronic conditions, which may be the actual cause or a secondary condition. For example, older patients with heart failure may be dealing with congested lungs causing shortness of breath or a dry, hacking cough or wheezing. Fluid and water retention resulting in edema (e.g. swollen ankles, legs, abdomen), loss of appetite, pervasive nausea, and harmful weight gains are also concerns.