Common Heart Conditions in Seniors: High Blood Pressure & Diabetes

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As we age, our bodies change, and sometimes health conditions may arise. Heart health in senior adults is a particular concern, and two problems are very typical: high blood pressure and diabetes.

Our healthcare professionals at all USA Healthcare facilities are well versed in helping our residents manage these conditions, whether that’s helping with prescribed medications, regular monitoring, providing heart healthy meals, and offering the opportunity for a healthy and active lifestyle.

Here’s more information about high blood pressure and diabetes in senior adults with information from the National Institute on Aging.

Common Conditions: High Blood Pressure & Diabetes

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major health problem that is common in older adults. The body’s network of blood vessels, known as the vascular system, changes with age, and arteries become stiffer, causing blood pressure to go up. Even those who have no symptoms may have high blood pressure, which is why it’s known as “the silent killer.”

If high blood pressure isn’t controlled with lifestyle changes and medication, it can lead to serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke, vascular dementia, eye problems, and kidney disease. 

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood. Blood pressure results are given in two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, is the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when your heart relaxes and fills with blood.

  • Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. 
  • Elevated blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 with a diastolic pressure of less than 80.
  • High blood pressure is defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number.

For older adults, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension and is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older adults and can lead to serious health problems in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness when standing too fast, and falls. 

Doctors typically recommend lifestyle changes as well as medication to lower blood pressure to a safe level. Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication. Medication can control blood pressure, but it can’t cure it, so taking medication is often a long-term process. 

Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious disease, and it affects many older adults. People get diabetes when their blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Over time, high blood glucose levels may damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.

Our bodies turn a lot of the food we eat into sugar, called glucose, which gives us energy. To use glucose as energy, our body needs insulin, a hormone that helps glucose get into our cells. If you have diabetes, your body may not make enough insulin, may not use insulin in the right way, or both.

Type 2 diabetes is the type most likely to be found in senior adults. With this type, the body does not make or use insulin well. Your chance of getting type 2 diabetes is higher if you are overweight, inactive, or have a family history of diabetes. 

It’s important to manage diabetes because, over time, it can cause serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, and nerve damage that may lead to amputation. Also, people with type 2 diabetes may be at greater risk for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include feeling tired, increased hunger or thirst, losing weight without trying, urinating often, or blurred vision. You may also get skin infections or heal slowly from cuts and bruises. Some people with type 2 diabetes may not realize they have it because symptoms often develop slowly and go unnoticed. 

Many people with type 2 diabetes can manage their blood glucose levels with diet and exercise alone. Others may need diabetes pills or insulin injections, along with medicines to manage other conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Tips for Managing High Blood Pressure & Diabetes

While these tips are aimed at improving blood pressure and helping manage diabetes, they will also improve overall health and well-being.

  • Make healthy food choices. The food seniors eat affects glucose levels, so it’s important to learn what’s best to eat, how much, and when. 
  • Be active. Walking and other forms of daily exercise can help improve glucose levels in older people with diabetes. 
  • Take medicines. Seniors should take medicine as prescribed even when they feel good. 
  • Manage cholesterol. At least once a year, seniors should have a blood test to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High levels may increase the risk for heart problems.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking raises the risk for many health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
  • Cut down on salt. As we get older, the body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt (sodium), which is added to many foods during processing or preparation. Limiting salt each day may help. 
  • Get up slowly. Seniors should always get up slowly from a seated or lying position and stand for a bit before walking. This allows their blood pressure to  adjust before walking to prevent lightheadedness and falls.
  • Be consistent with medication. Blood pressure medication should be taken at the same time each day as part of seniors’ daily routine. For example, they may take it in the morning with breakfast or in the evening before brushing their teeth. If they miss a dose, do not double the dose the next day.

USA Healthcare: Your Family is Our Family

At USA Healthcare, we look forward to getting to know you and your family and helping you get the answers you need when it comes to the best care options for your loved ones.

Contact us at USA Healthcare to discuss our long-term and short-term care facilities and options. We’re here for you!