High blood pressure, or hypertension, refers to the pressure that the blood places on the walls of arteries as it flows through them. Approximately one in every three adults over 20-years-old in the United States has high blood pressure. That number increases to two out of three at the age of 65. Given that information, many family caregivers are assisting older adults who have high blood pressure.
The Basics of High Blood Pressure
Understanding what high blood pressure is and what you can do to help your aging relative can help them to live a healthier life.
It is possible for someone to have high blood pressure for many years without even knowing it. That’s why it is sometimes referred to as “the silent killer.” Left untreated, it can have serious consequences, including heart disease and stroke.
High blood pressure is a combination of two factors:
- The volume of blood pumped by the heart.
- The ease at which the blood flows through the arteries.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.”
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
In most cases, there is no known cause of high blood pressure. However, sometimes it is caused by an underlying condition like sleep apnea, thyroid problems, or kidney problems. While most cases don’t have a known cause, there are several risk factors that doctors have identified for developing high blood pressure.
Some of the risk factors are:
Age: As stated above, people who are age 65 and older are at greater risk.
Race: African Americans get high blood pressure more often and when they are younger than Caucasians do. They are also at greater risk for serious health problems caused by high blood pressure.
Family History: If the older adult has family members with high blood pressure, they are more likely to have it.
Weight: People who are overweight or obese may develop high blood pressure because the extra weight requires the body to pump more blood.
Inactivity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk.
Excess Sodium: Eating too much salt can increase blood pressure.
Ways to Manage High Blood Pressure
When a person is diagnosed with high blood pressure, the doctor usually suggests that they make some lifestyle changes to improve their health. They may also be prescribed medication. Although it can be difficult for your aging relative to make healthy changes, there are ways family caregivers and elderly care providers can help.
Here are some ways to manage high blood pressure:
Dietary Changes: Doctors recommend eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy. Foods to avoid include those that contain saturated fats and cholesterol. One eating plan that the doctor might suggest is the D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan. There is a great deal of information about the plan available on the Internet. You can also ask the doctor to refer your older family member to a dietician for assistance.
Reduce Sodium Intake: In addition to other dietary changes, people with hypertension should strive to reduce the amount of sodium they eat. The upper limit for sodium intake should be 2,300 mg per day. However, it’s better to try to keep sodium under 1,500 mg per day. To reduce sodium, it’s important to read nutritional labels. Eating fewer processed foods can help as well.
Regular Physical Activity: Encourage your aging relative to fit some regular physical activity into their lives. They should seek to get around 150 minutes of exercise per week, which is 30 minutes on 5 days of the week. Any kind of physical activity counts. Try going for daily walks or signing them up for an exercise class designed for seniors.
Weight Loss:Losing excess weight can help to lower blood pressure. Even losing a little bit can make a difference. Fortunately, some of the other lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and exercise, will help with weight loss.
Reduce Stress: Stress can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Older adults with high blood pressure should learn ways to manage stress, such as meditation or deep breathing. They should also allow themselves time to relax and participate in enjoyable activities.
Keep Track of Blood Pressure: It’s a good idea to check blood pressure at home and write down the results. This can help the doctor to determine if the treatment plan is effective. A doctor or nurse can teach family caregivers how to check blood pressure.
Elder care providers can be an important resource in helping seniors to manage their blood pressure. An elder care provider can plan and prepare healthy meals that are low in salt. They can also help the older adult to be more active by encouraging them to move more around the house, going for walks with them, or driving them to an exercise class. Finally, having an elder care provider that they can rely on for assistance can reduce stress in older adults because they know help will be available when they need it.