High Cholesterol and Aging
High cholesterol affects more than half of all adults in the U.S. Even though the risks are well-known, only one in five people are actively managing it. For the elderly, those numbers are even lower. They are the highest risk group for having a stroke or heart attack linked to high cholesterol, yet they are largely non-compliant with diet, exercise and cholesterol medication utilization. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), high cholesterol is linked to 20% of all strokes and 50% of all heart attacks.
The good and bad types of cholesterol
Let’s start with a quick overview of what each of those cholesterol screening numbers mean. The numbers monitor three types of fat in the blood stream:
- HDL is the “good” cholesterol. Its job is to attach to the “bad” cholesterol and push it to the liver. Then it can be filtered out of your body. This is the type of cholesterol that you want to be higher. According to the American Heart Association, 60 mg/dl is what you need to be protected against heart disease. Less than 40 mg/dl puts you at major risk for heart disease.
- LDL aka the “bad” cholesterol. The lower your LDL number, the less likely you are to be at risk for a stroke or heart disease. Less than 100 mg/dL is considered optimal. 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline. Anything higher than 159 puts you at greater risk. Some families have a history of high levels of LDL. Despite a healthy lifestyle, they may be unable to reduce this number without medication.
- Triglycerides – This is one piece of the cholesterol puzzle that diet and exercise can usually help to control. Optimal triglyceride numbers are those less than 100 mg/dL. Normal can be up to 150 mg/dL and borderline high can go up to 199 mg/dL. Anything higher contributes to the development of what is known as metabolic syndrome. That increases your risk for a variety of cardiovascular problems and for diabetes.
The challenge is to keep your bad cholesterol and triglycerides low, while keeping your good cholesterol high. For some people, a healthy diet, increased exercise, and weight loss can help to lower cholesterol. For others, prescription medications may be needed.
How Caregivers Can Help Aging Loved Ones Lower Cholesterol
One of the primary concerns physicians have is the low compliance rate among seniors who should be taking cholesterol medication. Studies seem to indicate that medications that are prescribed to treat symptom-less conditions, such as high cholesterol, are less likely to be taken as directed. That is because patients and caregivers can’t see any tangible results from these medications. As a caregiver, you can help by:
- Educating your aging loved one on how and when they should be taking their cholesterol medication and helping them utilize tools, such as timed pill containers, to make compliance easier.
- Encouraging them to get some type of exercise most days of the week if they are able. It might be chair yoga or a walk around the block, whatever they and their physician agree is safe to do.
- Help them eat a well-balanced diet. If they have difficulty preparing meals, they might benefit from a mobile meals program.
To learn more about how to interpret your cholesterol screening numbers, talk with your family physician. You can also read The American Heart Association’s “What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean” online.