While we encounter many potential risks and complications as we age, high cholesterol is one of the most serious and common conditions that can affect seniors. Older adults who have high cholesterol carry a higher risk for serious heart disease, such as strokes and heart attacks.
What does high cholesterol mean?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all the cells in the body. Your body uses cholesterol to create hormones, vitamin D, and other substances that help you digest food. How your body carries cholesterol is through your bloodstream, in small packages called lipoproteins.
When you have too much cholesterol in the body, it can build up on the walls of your arteries in great amounts – narrowing those arteries. That narrowing can slow down, or even stop the flow of blood to your heart, causing chest pain referred to as Angina.
In addition, sometimes this build-up of cholesterol on the wall of your arteries can have a thin covering that bursts or ruptures – releasing fat and cholesterol into the bloodstream. This may cause the blood to clot, blocking the flow of blood – and that can also cause angina, or, even more seriously, a heart attack.
What can cause high cholesterol?
Diet – Certain foods contain fats that can significantly raise your cholesterol level. Trans fatty acids and foods that come from animal sources (eg: meat, egg yolks, and cheese) are usual suspects for raising cholesterol levels.
Weight – Being overweight tends to increase the not so great type of cholesterol, and increases your overall cholesterol levels.
Heredity – High cholesterol can also be genetic, an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia can result in higher than normal cholesterol levels.
What can I do to prevent it?
Have them eat a balanced diet. Diet is one of the best ways to improve cholesterol levels. Ensure your senior is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods with omega-3 fatty acids. Some great sources are salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, almonds, and flax seed.
Encourage activity. Regular exercise will help your loved one maintain their weight and prevent obesity. Even a nice regular walk can go a long way!
If they smoke, help them quit. While smoking doesn’t cause high cholesterol, people who smoke with high cholesterol are at even greater risk for heart disease. Smoking also lowers the good type of cholesterol.
You should also have your senior get their cholesterol levels checked out every 5 years, or even more often if they’re at risk – as there are usually no signs or symptoms associated with high cholesterol.
While the dangers of high cholesterol are numerous, caregivers can keep their loved one happy and healthy by educating themselves, and helping their senior take the steps to keep it in control.
Do you have a loved one with high cholesterol? How are some of the ways you help them manage it? Let us know in the comments.