Is High Cholesterol a Health Concern for Seniors?

Do you know a senior with high cholesterol? If so, you might be wondering whether it’s a health concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 95 million Americans aged 20 and older suffer from high cholesterol. Seniors, unfortunately, are more likely to have high cholesterol than their younger counterparts. So, is high cholesterol a health concern for seniors?

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol itself is a thick and waxy substance. It’s available in many foods and is also produced by the liver. Our bodies use this substance to build cell membranes, synthesize hormones — oestrogen, testosterone, etc. — and more. Some people, however, have higher levels of cholesterol than others. When levels of cholesterol remain elevated for a prolonged period, it may have several adverse effects.

The 2 Types of Cholesterol

Before we reveal whether high cholesterol is a health concern for seniors, let’s first discuss the different types of cholesterol. There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The former is dubbed the “good cholesterol” because of its role in the aforementioned processes. The latter, on the other hand, is known as the “bad cholesterol” because it contributes to arterial blockages.

The Health Effects of High Cholesterol

According to the CDC, people with high cholesterol — specifically LCL cholesterol — are more likely to develop heart disease and experience stroke than their counterparts with moderate or low cholesterol. Seniors, of course, often suffer from preexisting medical conditions, including heart disease. Therefore, many people believe that high cholesterol is a serious health concern for seniors.

The biggest problem with high cholesterol is its effects on the heart. Arteries are large blood vessels that transfer blood from the heart to various organs and tissues. In order for them to function properly, though, they must remain relatively clear and unclogged. With high cholesterol, this waxy substance will gradually build up inside the arteries where it restricts blood flow.

As cholesterol accumulates within the arteries, blood may struggle to reach areas where it’s needed. Furthermore, when left unchecked, blocked arteries can lead to heart disease or stroke, which are two of the most common causes of deaths in the United States.

Why High Cholesterol Is a Health Concern for Seniors

While there’s conflicting evidence regarding the degree to which high cholesterol affects a senior’s health, most medical experts agree that it is, in fact, a health concern for seniors. According to John Hopkins Medicine, high cholesterol is a leading risk factor for heart disease in seniors. Seniors with high cholesterol typically have a greater risk of developing heart disease than seniors with low or moderate cholesterol.

Helping Seniors Manage Their Cholesterol

Seniors typically have higher cholesterol than younger adults. As we age, our bodies produce more cholesterol on their own, which is the reason why so many seniors have high cholesterol. If you know a senior with high cholesterol, though, there are several things you can do to help him or her manage their cholesterol.

First and foremost, you should encourage the senior to get his or her cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. The CDC’s current guidelines advise “healthy adults” to get their cholesterol levels checked at least once every four to six years. Seniors with a history of heart disease or diabetes, however, should get their cholesterol levels checked more frequently.

Cutting back on saturated fats can have a positive impact on a senior’s cholesterol. Saturated fats, such as those found in beef and pork, have been linked to high LDL cholesterol, which is the bad type of cholesterol.

While seniors can consume some saturated fats in their diet, they should avoid trans fats altogether. Trans fats have a one-two punch that’s disastrous on cholesterol levels. When consumed, they cause a senior’s LDL cholesterol to increase and his or her HDL cholesterol to decrease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of trans fats back in 2015, but unfortunately there are still food products that contain this harmful substance. As a result, seniors should use caution to avoid food products containing any amount of trans fat.

Follow Doctor’s Guidance

There’s no substitution for doctor’s guidance when managing cholesterol. Only a medical professional can create a custom cholesterol management based on a senior’s medical history.

Many doctors prescribe statins to seniors with high cholesterol. Statins help to clear blockages in the arteries and, therefore, protect against heart disease. Like other prescription medication, though, they carry a risk of adverse side effects, some of which include memory loss, nausea, upset stomach and confusion.

The bottom line is that seniors should follow their doctor’s guidance regarding cholesterol management. For some seniors, dieting and lifestyle changes may suffice. For others, prescription statins may be required. Seniors should follow their doctor’s guidance for the best prognosis regarding their cholesterol management.

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