High cholesterol in seniors presents a real health risk for aging individuals. With all the media focused on good and bad cholesterol in middle-aged Americans, it’s easy to forget that older individuals have to keep an eye on their lipid levels as well. In fact, the risk of having high cholesterol increases as we age, as does the likelihood of having health conditions associated with high cholesterol. One study from 2011 found that 47% of men and 59% of women between the ages of 65 and 74 had higher than recommended levels of “Bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol in seniors has a significant impact on their health. According to the American Heart Association 80 million Americans over 65-years old have some form of cardiovascular disease (or CVD)—many of which are directly related to cholesterol levels. Thankfully, medical research has made great strides concerning the management of “bad” cholesterol in elderly individuals recent years. This marks a tremendous change in thinking as much of the research between 1950 and 1990 really didn’t address older individuals (above the age of 65.)
The first step is, of course, regular monitoring of cholesterol. A simple blood test performed at least once per year can help elderly individuals track their cholesterol and help them adjust their diet, lifestyle, and medication to maintain a healthier lipid balance.
How to Fight High Cholesterol in Seniors
As it turns out, older individuals may benefit from many of the same methods of cholesterol management as their younger counterparts. In fact, European guidelines endorsed by the European Society of Cardiology for treating abnormal cholesterol levels (published in 2013) state “primary prevention in the elderly should not differ from that of younger subjects.”
Of course there are complications that arise in this age group—most notably: decreased mobility, existing disease, or disabilities) but with the help of a medical profession most seniors can create a plan that works for them.
There are a number of simple lifestyle changes seniors can make that will help them drop their bad cholesterol levels within 4 to 6 weeks. However, with seniors it’s essential that any lifestyle change (including dietary changes and exercise routines) be discussed with a healthcare professional before making them.
Quit Smoking—While smoking does not directly contribute to high cholesterol, it does directly impact coronary health—especially in individuals with high cholesterol. While many seniors have smoked for years and think they’re too old to stop, it’s never too late to quit. In fact, when you make that decision to give up cigarettes, your body starts to respond (regulating blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, pulse rate and more) in just 20 minutes!
Eat Better—Roughly 15% of the cholesterol (good and bad) in our bodies comes directly from the foods we eat. By changing our diets we can change our body chemistry quickly. Individuals with high cholesterol should consider eating foods lower in fat (especially trans fats) and increasing the levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. This unsaturated fat can be found in fish, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, and even over-the-counter supplements like fish oil pills.
Regular Physical Exercise—Regular exercise changes how our bodies produce and metabolize cholesterol. In fact, as little as 30 minutes per day can help raise the levels of “Good Cholesterol” in your body. The key is to tailor the specific routine to the abilities of the individual. With the right preparation even homebound seniors or those with chronic conditions like Parkinson’s Disease can enjoy the benefits of exercise.
If these lifestyle changes aren’t enough to get the high cholesterol in seniors you care for under control, these older individuals may have to begin treatment with prescription medications. While some research shows that medications like statins can increase an elderly individual’s risk of certain adverse side effects, a growing amount of documentation suggests that the benefits of such medications may greatly outweigh those risks. In fact, statin therapy has been shown to be “generally safe and well tolerated” by elderly patients under the age of 80. (There is very little research concerning the safety of statins in people over 80-years old.)
Speak with Your Health Care Provider First
The best course of action for one individual may not be the best for another. It’s important to discuss your concerns about high cholesterol in seniors with an informed healthcare professional such as their primary care physician. After a plan is in place, home healthcare professionals from Second Family Home Care can help ensure your loved one stays on track.
If you or an aging loved one are considering hiring home care in or near Plano, TX, please call the caring staff at Second Family Home Care at (972) 347-0700.