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Heart Failure and Diet


"My father has congestive heart failure, and I am concerned he doesn't follow the diet restrictions he's been given.  You see, I take him shopping once a week, and he buys food that is loaded with sodium: chips, canned soup, and salted peanuts.  He has always eaten this way, but with his disease, it's a very bad idea.  He is not the type of person that you confront if you know what I mean.  Do you have any ideas how I can approach this situation?"


This is not going to be easy, as you have already surmised.  People do not often break lifelong habits.  Yes, your father should abide by the diet restrictions he was given, but getting him to follow through is another thing.  He may not care about the future state of his heart and rather live for the moment.

If your father has been hospitalized with an episode of fluid overload, he already knows the crushing feeling of a heart in failure.  He also knows that medical professionals are capable of drawing out that fluid overload.  What he may be failing to internalize is the progressive nature of congestive heart failure and how his actions are advancing his disease. 

A little bit of damage is done every time his heart is under strain, worsening the heart condition that he has. His medication is managing the disease, not curing it.  Sometimes that harsh reality has not been clearly relayed or may not have sunk in with your father.

If your dad is someone you feel uncomfortable talking to or will tell you to mind your own business, the person closest to him or his doctor needs to have the conversation with him.  It does not mean that he will listen.  Look at smokers, most of them have a fairly clear understanding of the potential impact smoking can have, yet they still do it.  Your father may fall into that category.

If you feel particularly courageous, you may ask him while on the way to the grocery store if there are any diet restrictions associated with his heart condition.  I would not mention that you know what they are.  His response will clue you into his knowledge or lack of.  Do not ask this question after he has filled your trunk with salt laden products, because then you are just asking for a battle.  He may surprise you with a lack of understanding or confirm that he plans to eat whatever he wants.  That will give you a starting point for either further discussion or information about his level of resistance to change.

I wish you luck in approaching your father.