Cognitive deficits in heart failure: Re-cognition of vulnerability as a strange new world

J Cardiovasc Nurs. May-Jun 2009;24(3):241-8. doi: 10.1097/JCN.0b013e3181a00284.


Background: Patients with chronic heart failure (HF) have impairment in memory, psychomotor speed, and executive function.

Objective: The aim of this study was to describe how individuals with HF and cognitive deficits manage self-care in their daily lives.

Methods: Using an interpretive phenomenology method, HF patients completed unstructured face-to-face interviews about their ability to manage complex health regimens and maintain their health-related quality of life. Analysis of data was aided by use of Atlas.ti computer software.

Results: The sample consisted of 12 patients (10 men; aged 43-81 years) who had previously undergone neuropsychological testing and were found to have deficits in 3 or more cognitive domains. Patients confirmed that they followed the advice of healthcare providers by adherence to medication regimens, dietary sodium restrictions, and HF self-care. One overarching theme was identified: "Re-cognition of Vulnerability: A Strange New World." This theme was further differentiated into 3 components: (1) not recognizing cognitive deficits; (2) recognizing cognitive deficits, described as (a) never could remember anything, (b) just old age, (c) HF-related change, and (d) making normal accommodations; and (3) recognizing vulnerability, explained by perception of (a) cognitive, (b) physical, and (c) social vulnerabilities, as well as perception of (d) the nearness of death.

Discussion: Although the study was designed to focus on the cognitive changes in HF patients, it was difficult to separate cognitive, physical, and social challenges. These changes are most useful when taken as a constellation. Healthcare professionals can use the knowledge to identify problems and interventions for HF patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / complications
  • Heart Failure / prevention & control
  • Heart Failure / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwestern United States
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Care / psychology*
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires