While seniors unfortunately tend to be more prone to certain conditions when compared to younger adults, there are conditions that are particularly common in seniors today. One of the most serious conditions to impact many seniors is high cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to a number of serious and even fatal heart conditions in seniors.
Older adults who have high cholesterol are at a much higher risk for serious health issues such as stroke and heart attack. While high cholesterol is very serious, many seniors do not really understand what high cholesterol is or how it can impact their lives. Adequate education about cholesterol and how to keep cholesterol levels in control can help any senior live the heart-healthy life they deserve.
What is cholesterol? Simply put, it is a waxy substance found in the cells of the body, and looks similar to fat. Cholesterol in general is natural. In fact, your body needs some cholesterol to power itself and function the way it is supposed to. On its own, your body should be able to make as much cholesterol as it needs.
One of the first and most important things for any senior to understand is that not all cholesterol is bad. If the body didn't have cholesterol, it couldn't function. Cholesterol makes hormones, creates vitamin D and helps the body digest foods. There are two types of cholesterol in the body, when the amount of this cholesterol is balanced, the body will function normally.
While cholesterol is good in many respects, if there is too much cholesterol in the body, it can be a bad thing. The important thing for seniors and their caregivers to remember is that there isn't just a natural amount of cholesterol in the body, there is also cholesterol in many of the foods that we eat. Eating too much of these types of foods and making poor lifestyle choices can cause any person to have high cholesterol and to start suffering from the cardiovascular issues that often come with this condition.
What Does High Cholesterol Mean?
High cholesterol isn't just something that comes in the foods we eat, instead when a senior is suffering from high cholesterol, they are suffering from the body's reaction to how they choose to eat and live their lives. High cholesterol is often a result of lifestyle choices. When the body has the right amount of cholesterol, it can function normally, when these cholesterol levels are imbalanced, that is when it can start causing problems.
More specifically, when a senior has high cholesterol, it greatly increases their chances of getting heart disease. This type of high cholesterol can come from a number of sources including:
- Eating trans fatty acids, or trans fats
- Eating a lot of fried foods
- Being overweight
- Not exercising enough
- Eating a lot of food from animal sources such as meat, cheese and eggs
- Age (seniors are more likely to have high cholesterol than younger adults)
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Family History of High Cholesterol
One of the most difficult things about high cholesterol, especially in seniors who may have other health conditions to worry about, is that it does not cause any symptoms on its own. This is why there are so many seniors out there who do not realize that they are suffering from high cholesterol. While it can be difficult to spot, seniors can visit their primary health provider to have their cholesterol levels checked.
One of the main ways in which high cholesterol causes cardiovascular issues is that it creates a build-up along the walls of the arteries, also known plaque. Over time, this makes the passage way through the arteries much thinner and causes the arteries to harden. This can slow down or even stop the flow of blood to the heart, causing chest pain, coronary artery disease or an issue called angina which happens when the heart does not receive enough blood. When the plaque in the arteries burst, it can cause a blood clot or blockage, which can also cause a heart attack.
How to Prevent and Lower High Cholesterol in Seniors
High cholesterol in seniors is a very serious issue, but the good news is, there are ways that seniors and their healthcare providers can lower their cholesterol levels and get them to a healthy, manageable spot. Just because a senior has high cholesterol at one point, it doesn't mean that they will have it forever. Caregivers can also play an important role in helping seniors lower their high cholesterol and in preventing high cholesterol levels from forming.
While some genetic factors may come into play, leaving certain seniors more prone to high cholesterol, even those with a family history of this condition can often do things to lower high cholesterol or prevent cholesterol-related plaques from forming. The first and most important thing that seniors should do, is make changes to their lifestyle.
This lifestyle change includes eating a low-fat, high protein and balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Diet is one of the best ways to improve cholesterol levels. Senior caregivers can step in and help these older adults make certain they are eating a healthy diet and eliminating fatty, fried or overly processed foods. In addition to eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, seniors who smoke should also quit using tobacco. Smoking causes increased plaque build up in the arteries of the body.
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, seniors who have or may suffer from high cholesterol, should also start exercising daily. While exercise may be difficult for seniors with mobility issues, something as simple as biking on a stationary bike, walking or stretching can actually go a long way. The more active seniors are, the better equipped they will be to fight off issues with high cholesterol. It is a good idea for a senior to talk to his or her Health Care Provider about exercising plans and discuss any medical issues that may be affected by exercise.
Seniors who have alarmingly high cholesterol levels may also need special cholesterol medication to help keep their cholesterol levels balanced and to prevent more serious cardiovascular issues from forming.