Roughly half of American adults over 60 are affected by high blood pressure, “the silent killer,” but that doesn’t mean it is an inevitable part of senior life.
Understanding Blood Pressure
Every time your heart beats, it pumps oxygen-saturated blood throughout your veins which, in turn, puts pressure on the walls of these arteries— blood pressure. Blood pressure is given as two numbers (e.g. 120 over 80) because your veins experience two separate pressures—the systolic pressure of each heart beat and the diastolic pressure between beats.
Blood pressure isn’t a static number. It changes depending on your senior living activities and stress levels throughout the day.
High blood pressure is typically an asymptomatic condition.
Headaches may occasionally occur, but many older adults don’t find out they have high blood pressure until they begin to have serious complications. When high blood pressure is not diagnosed and treated, it can lead to other life-threatening conditions.
- Heart failure can result when an overworked heart is weakened and enlarged.
- Aneurysms (bulges) may develop in your blood vessels.
- Blood vessels in your kidneys can narrow, leading to damage and failure.
- Blood vessels in your eyes can bleed and even burst, resulting in impaired vision.
- Arteries harden faster, increasing the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.
There a number of factors that put you at risk for high blood pressure.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having a family history of high blood pressure.
- Having pre-hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) with a reading that is anywhere between 120-139 over 80-89.
During middle age— after the age of 45 for men and 55 for women— the risk for developing high blood pressure increases, so older adults must be especially careful of their lifestyle choices.
An unhealthy lifestyle can also put you at risk. You may be at risk for high blood pressure if your day-to-day senior life includes any of the following:
- A high sodium diet
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being physically inactive
- Potassium deficiency
- Extended periods of stress
- Healthy eating habits can help lower blood pressure and promote a better quality of life. Make sure that you’re eating a diverse diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk products, and whole grains.
- Because a sodium heavy diet creates risk, taking steps to reduce your sodium intake can help manage your blood pressure. You can start small by taking away your salt shaker so that you don’t add additional salt to your meals.
- For those who are overweight, losing a few pounds can help manage blood pressure. Losing as little as 10 pounds can drastically reduce your risk for any number of conditions.
- Regular exercise can help you manage your weight and blood pressure. Engaging in physically activity for 30 minutes at least twice a week helps promote better senior living across the board.
- Limiting your alcohol intake can also help. Healthcare professional recommend that women indulge in no more than 2 alcoholic beverages a day and men to 3 or less.
- As smoking raises risks for any number of serious medical conditions, quitting is always a guaranteed step to better senior living.
- Speak to counselors in your senior living community about how to cope with stress.
Older adults can take steps to prevent or control high blood pressure by making changes in their lifestyle.
Managing high blood pressure is a life-long pursuit, and practicing healthier habits in your senior living can help. To ensure life-long control, speak with your healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan and to see if you should be taking medications to help manage your condition.