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Guide To Heart Health For Individuals With I/DD

Feb 9, 2023

Heart health is just as important for people with an intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD) as it is for everyone else. In recognition of American Heart Month, Dr. Sindiswa Akinbo, Director of Nursing at ILA, has a number of helpful tips to maintain a healthy heart health and important information on how to recognize the risks and signs of heart disease. 

Dr. Sindiswa Akinbo, Director of Nursing, Independent Living Association

Symptoms Of Heart Disease  

According to Dr. Akinbo, the most common type of heart disease is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). She explains, “CHD occurs when the coronary arteries (tubes) that take blood to the heart are blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material (called plaque) build up inside the arteries.”

Along with clogged arteries comes a serious health risk. “Clogged arteries greatly increase the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, even death,” Dr. Akinbo says.  

People with CHD may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Dr. Akinbo also points out the dangers of Carotid Artery Disease and Peripheral Artery Disease which can lead to pain, weakness, numbness, speech and motion issues, and much more.   

How to Determine a Diagnosis

Fortunately, there are several tests that physicians can perform to determine a proper diagnosis.  “The doctor will determine which tests to prescribe based on a person’s symptoms and medical history,” Dr. Akinbo says.

For DSPs advocating for an individual with I/DD who may be at risk of heart disease, here are some tests to inquire about that a physician can perform:  

  • Cholesterol screening
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Echocardiogram and/or cardiac stress test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • MRI or ET scanning 

6 Tips For Maintaining Heart Health For Individuals (and Everyone!)

How to ensure a healthy heart – prevention of heart disease is key. There are many things that families, staff, and other caregivers can do to help individuals decrease their risk of developing heart disease. 

 Dr. Akinbo recommends the following lifestyle tips to pave the way to a healthy heart. 

  1. Eat a diet low in saturated fats, sugars, and simple carbohydrates, and high in fruits and vegetables.
  2. Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity has been associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease.
  3. Exercise regularly. It doesn’t need to be intense. Simply walking every day can have a great impact on your health, rather than remaining sedentary.
  4. Manage stress levels.  
  5. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol down.
  6. Maintain low blood sugar.

Small Habits Can Affect Heartfelt Change

The impact of small, manageable habits such as healthy eating and daily light exercise cannot be overestimated. Helping individuals take the six important steps above can help reduce their risk of heart disease so they can continue to live rich, fulfilling lives. 

At the Independent Living Association, Dr. Akinbo and her outstanding team of nurses collaborate with clinical and residential staff to ensure that ILA’s Individuals live the healthiest life possible. 

Contact our offices for more information on our high quality care and services and how you can help support ILA. For more information on heart health, visit heart.org.


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