The Domain Management Approach for Holistic and Patient-Centered Care of Older Adults with HFpEF

parag_officialOur recent Council review paper from the American College of Cardiology Geriatric Cardiology Section Leadership Council enumerated the potential role for a multi-domain approach to caring for older adults with heart failure.  As shown in the proposed Domain Management approach to heart failure, domains including medical, mind and emotion, function, and social environment should be routinely considered when caring for older adults with heart failure.

While this Domain Management approach is applicable to any type of heart failure, it is especially relevant when caring for individuals with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), a subtype that comprises 50% of heart failure cases across the United States.  HFpEF may be described as a geriatric syndrome, as aging processes including biological changes to the cardiovascular system and age-related comorbid conditions have been implicated in its pathogenesis.  Indeed, epidemiologic studies have shown that HFpEF disproportionately affects older adults.  Consequently, management of patients with HFpEF should incorporate aspects of care needed to address the unique vulnerabilities of older adults.  For example, patients with HFpEF almost universally experience multimorbidity (the condition of having multiple chronic conditions) and polypharmacy (high burden of medications); frequently experience cognitive and functional impairment; and often experience changes within their social environment relating to social support, their peer network, and/or financial state.  The Domain Management approach provides a framework for clinicians to address each of these four domains, promoting a holistic approach to heart failure care.

What might the application of a Domain Management approach in clinical practice for the care of patients with HFpEF look like?  Our recently-established Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction Program at Weill Cornell Medicine/New York Presbyterian Hospital could offer a model for incorporating the Domain Management approach.  For the medical domain, we obtain a detailed history that focuses on both cardiac and non-cardiac conditions, and also perform a thorough review of medications (with physical pill bottles when possible) that include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and nutritional supplements.  We pay special attention to the number of medications and regimen complexity, both of which can undermine medication adherence.  For the mind and emotion domain, we routinely screen for cognitive impairment (via the Mini-Cog, which takes <2 minutes to administer) and for depressive symptoms using the PHQ-2/9 (2-4 minutes), both of which can negatively impact self-care.  For the function domain, we screen for frailty and mobility limitations by conducting the short physical performance battery (approximately 5 minutes) which assesses core strength, balance, and gait speed.  We also inquire about orthostatic symptoms and a history of falls.  Our functional assessments have particularly important implications on prognosis as well as decision-making with regard to blood pressure targets.  Lastly, for the social environment domain, we take a detailed social history that includes an assessment of their social network and sources of emotional and financial support.  To address potential concerns related to this domain, our HFpEF Program has a dedicated Social Worker.

While formal assessment of each domain increases the duration of the office visit, we believe that the Domain Management approach facilitates a more nuanced approach to caring for older adults with HFpEF that is comprehensive and patient-centric.  Information acquired for each domain can have a significant impact on discussions relating to the potential benefits and risks of various diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.  Accordingly, we believe that the Domain Management approach is critically important to facilitate shared-decision making.  Whether the Domain Management approach can improve outcomes is unclear; in the future, we hope to share our experience as it relates to outcomes.  Until then, it would seem that any process that can help with decision-making in a complex condition like HFpEF would be worth the extra time and effort.

By: Parag Goyal, MD

Dr. Goyal is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Division of Cardiology at Weill Cornell Medical Center, and is leading a new HFpEF program at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The Heart of the Matter: Palliative Care in Heart Failure

Megan Rau HeadshotApproximately 5.7 million U.S. adults have heart failure (HF), and 1 in 5 individuals over age 40 will develop HF in their lifetimes. HF is accompanied by many symptoms – including fatigue, shortness of breath, mood changes, pain, and anorexia. Among older adults with HF, these symptoms are compounded by mobility limitations, frailty, and other co-morbidities. Palliative Care is an optimal way to address symptoms while concurrently treating with disease-modifying interventions (Figure 1).

 

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Figure 1. Schematic Depiction of Comprehensive Heart Failure Care. 

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organization as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual…Palliative care is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life.”

Palliative care can help HF patients in several ways. First, the palliative care team can work with a patient’s cardiologist in proactively treating symptoms as they develop over the course of the illness and during times of exacerbations. While the underlying cause of these symptoms is not completely understood, hypotheses suggest that physiological changes contribute to symptom burden (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Schematic Etiology of Heart Failure Symptoms.  

One of the most common symptoms with heart failure is dyspnea, and a patient’s cardiologist and palliative care clinician may work together to treat dyspnea by using diuretics to optimize fluid status, teaching breathing techniques, and (in advanced disease) administering a low dose opioid such as morphine to alleviate shortness of breath. These treatments have the unified goal of improving a patient’s quality of life.

Second, palliative care assists with effective communication between patients and clinicians in the form of advanced care planning – including establishing a health care proxy, completing advanced directives, discussing goals of care, and having end of life conversations regarding when to stop certain interventions. Advanced care planning discussions help to ensure patients’ preferences for what is most important in their care are met.

Goodlin et al provide examples of language clinicians may use to eliciting these preferences, such as “What treatment we recommend depends on your medical condition, but also on what approach to care you prefer and what is important to you at this point in your life”. This statement allows a platform for patients to express their wishes and what quality of life means to them. Their clinician is then able to recommend treatments that align with their goals and preferences.

HF is a common disease with a dynamic trajectory due to periods of exacerbation and recovery. It is imperative that cardiologists and palliative care clinicians work together to provide disease-modifying interventions while concurrently treating symptoms and developing advanced care plans with patients.

For more information on Palliative Care in Heart Failure visit the following websites:

 

By: Megan E. Rau, MD, MPH

Dr. Rau is a practicing physician at NYU Langone Health who specializes in geriatrics and palliative care & hospice. 

Hearing Loss and Heart Failure

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

At first glance, hearing impairment and heart disease seem to have very little in common. However, the relationship has been hypothesized since the 1960’s, and more recently has been established in epidemiologic studies – with a particular emphasis on heart failure. For example, a recent study by Sterling et al. examined patients in the cross-sectional NHANES Survey aged ≥70 years with a diagnosis of heart failure. The authors described the percentage with quantifiable hearing loss based on pure-tone audiometry (considered the gold standard test).

The main findings: 74% of patients with heart failure had some degree of hearing loss, which was significantly higher than those without heart failure (63%). Further, only 16% of heart failure patients wore hearing aids. Thus there was a disconnect between the burden of hearing loss, and use of a strategy (hearing aids) with proven effectiveness.

Why does this matter? According to the authors: “since patients with HF [heart failure] are frequently in noisy hospitals and clinics where they receive myriad instructions about disease management, it seems likely that untreated hearing loss could impair patient-physician communication and ultimately HF self-care.” After my recent two weeks attending on the inpatient cardiology service, I concur. We are constantly expecting our patients to provide us an accurate history, comprehend diagnostic test results, and adhere to discharge plans, all of which may be affected by hearing impairment.

What are the solutions? The first is to increase identification of hearing impairment through screening – and with advances in technology, I’d predict this can soon be easily done at the bedside with portable electronic devices. The second is to make hearing aids more accessible, including over-the-counter purchases – and recently there has been some notable advocacy work advancing laws to increase access. Through these two simple strategies, we may be able to make meaningful improvements in the health of our older cardiac patients.

Cognitive Screening in Heart Failure

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Photo Credit: APA PsycNET

Cognitive impairment, which includes deficits in memory, language, concentration, and reasoning, is common and often unrecognized in older patients. As a trainee, one of my first projects was to work on a study that performed cognitive assessments in a series of 282 patients age >65 hospitalized for heart failure. We found that cognitive impairment was common – present to some degree in nearly half of patients – and documented by physicians in fewer than one-quarter of cases. Further, we found that cognitive impairment was associated with mortality or hospital readmission within 6 months – and that patients with impairment that was not documented by physicians constituted the highest risk group. Our findings mirrored previous studies (examples here and here) documenting the common co-occurrence of cognitive impairment with heart failure.

Translating findings like this into actionable clinical practice can be challenging, but some centers are starting to routinely incorporate cognitive screening into care. Cleveland Clinic, for example, has published findings from screening using the Mini-Cog (a simple test that involves 3-item recall and a clock drawing task) and found that an abnormal test result (indicating cognitive impairment) was the strongest predictor of readmission among 55 candidate variables. They subsequently published a protocol for training nurses to use the Mini-Cog in practice in order to facilitate implementation among clinical staff unfamiliar with the instrument.

When cognitive impairment is discovered, there’s no easy solution to management – but several strategies make intuitive sense. Involving family members more closely in caregiving — to remind patients of their appointments and to assist with medication management — may help to avoid problems related to nonadherence (for example, hospitalization for decompensated heart failure). In my own practice, I try to simplify medication regimens whenever possible in patients who are cognitively impaired, with the goal of improving adherence and avoiding adverse medication-related events. Finally, since cognitive impairment has many causes, referral to a memory center can help to establish a formal diagnosis and set expectations in terms of what to anticipate in the coming years.

 

By: John Dodson, MD, MPH

Frailty and Advanced Heart Failure

dodson%20headshotThis week we published a review in the Journal Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports  on the concept of frailty and advanced heart failure in older adults. As geriatricians have long known, frailty–defined as an increased vulnerability to physiologic stressors–is an incredibly common and often unrecognized syndrome in older patients. Cardiologists are increasingly recognizing that frailty predicts a broad range of outcomes, including mortality, in conditions such as heart failure, but also other situations such as acute myocardial infarction and transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

A few highlights from our paper:

– 80% of patients with heart failure are over age 65.

– As the heart failure population continues to age, the burden of frailty has increased.

– The estimated prevalence of frailty in advanced heart failure varies widely, with some estimates ranging up to 3 out of every 4 patients.

– It is challenging to determine causality between heart failure and frailty; they share common inflammatory pathways and one syndrome may mimic the other.

With our current technologies, one of the most pressing clinical questions is whether placement of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in advanced systolic heart failure can reverse the frailty phenotype, by correcting underlying physiologic derangements. Flint et al. have put forward the concept of “LVAD-responsive frailty” and “LVAD-independent frailty” – with an illustrative figure cited in our paper. Their concept emphasizes the considerable heterogeneity that exists within heart failure populations. We will need further studies to be able to predict where frailty may improve, in order to better counsel patients about their expected outcomes.

 

By: John Dodson