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High Blood Pressure and Older Adults

Your 1+1 Team
July 20, 2022

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the most common health problems in older adults. This is due to how the body changes with age, specifically, arteries get stiffer and cause blood pressure to rise. If high blood pressure isn’t managed through lifestyle changes and medications, it can cause serious health problems including, heart disease and stroke, eye problems, vascular dementia, and kidney disease. Luckily, blood pressure can be controlled in most cases.

What is Blood Pressure?

The National Institute on Aging states blood pressure is “the force of blood pumping against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood.” Physicians check your blood pressure by using a blood pressure cuff around your arm that slowly tightens. The results are identified through two numbers. The first number is the “systolic blood pressure” caused by your heart contracting and forcing blood out. The second number is the “diastolic blood pressure” which is when your heart relaxes and fills up with blood. Your blood pressure level is classified based on those two numbers.

  • Low Blood Pressure, also known as hypotension, is systolic blood pressure below 90 or diastolic pressure below 60. You may feel lightheaded, weak, or dizzy.
  • Normal Blood pressure in adults is commonly a systolic pressure lower than 120 and a diastolic pressure lower than 80.
  • Elevated Blood Pressure is a systolic pressure anywhere from 120 to 129 with a diastolic pressure below 80.
  • High Blood Pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of 130 or higher, or a diastolic pressure of 80 or higher.

Older adults tend to have a systolic pressure of 130 or higher, but a diastolic pressure below 80. This is called isolated systolic hypertension and it’s the most common type of high blood pressure in older adults due to age-related stiffening of the arteries. It can cause shortness of breath during physical activity, lightheadedness when standing up, falls, and further serious health problems

How can I control my blood pressure?

Besides following the necessary treatment and medication protocols from your doctor, you can additionally lower your blood pressure by making healthy changes to your lifestyle:

  • Aim for a healthy weight: Being overweight can contribute to high blood pressure. To maintain a healthy weight, you need to burn the same amount of calories as you consume.
  • Cut down on salt: As you age, your body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt. Decreasing the amount of salt you consume in your meals may help.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet: You can lower your blood pressure by maintaining a balanced diet of protein, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and oils. We suggest you refer to the DASH eating plan.
  • Exercise: Staying active through moderate exercises such as brisk walking or swimming can help lower blood pressure. Start your goals off slowly so you can exercise safely, but eventually aim for 2.5 hours a week.
  • Drink less alcohol: For drinkers, men should limit themselves to 2 drinks per day and women should limit themselves to 1 drink per day to lessen their risk for high blood pressure.
  • Don’t smoke: If you smoke, quit to avoid the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and more health problems. It is beneficial to quit smoking at any age, it’s never too late.
  • Control stress: Stress can be a big contributor to high blood pressure. Cope with what’s straining your life to lower your stress levels.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: If you snore or have moments when you stop breathing while you sleep, tell your doctor because you may have sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea and getting a full night’s sleep can help decrease blood pressure.

Paying attention to the signs and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is necessary to avoid high blood pressure, however, it is often referred to as “the silent killer” because it usually does not cause signs of illness you can see or feel. So, even if your aging loved one says they are “perfectly fine,” make sure they check their blood pressure regularly to avoid serious health problems.

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