Cholesterol Basics Everyone Needs to Know
More than half of all adults in this country have high cholesterol. Surprisingly, experts say only one in three of these adults have the condition under control.
Adults over 65 are at the highest risk of having a stroke or heart attack linked to high cholesterol. This makes it especially important for seniors with high cholesterol to adhere to their prescribed medication.
Since high cholesterol itself doesn’t typically have any symptoms, older adults may be unaware of just how dangerous this condition is and what they can do to get it under control.
Decoding the Different Types of Cholesterol
Let’s start with a quick overview of each type of cholesterol and what the numbers mean.
Cholesterol screening measures three types of fat in the blood stream:
- HDL (aka “good” cholesterol): Works to attach itself to LDL, aka “bad cholesterol,” in the body and push it to the liver so it can be filtered out. For HDL, the higher the number, the better. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you need an HDL of 60 mg/dL to be protected against heart disease. Less than 40 mg/dL puts you at major risk for heart disease.
- LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol): The lower your number, the less likely you are to be at risk for a stroke or heart disease. A screening number of less than 100 mg/dL is considered to be optimal. Anything higher than 159 puts you at high risk for a serious health crisis. While LDL can sometimes be controlled with a healthy diet and regular exercise, there may also be a hereditary component for some families. For these adults, the only way to maintain a healthy LDL is through medication.
- Triglycerides: This is the last piece of the cholesterol puzzle and usually the easiest to control. A healthy diet and exercise can typically keep triglycerides under 100 mg/dL, which is considered optimal, while normal can be up to 150 mg/dL. Anything higher than 199 mg/dL can result in metabolic syndrome, a condition that puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes.
How to Help a Loved One Manage Their Cholesterol
Physicians frequently cite low rates of compliance as a primary barrier to helping older patients manage their cholesterol. Seniors often struggle to follow doctor’s orders with regard to diet, exercise, and taking their cholesterol medication as prescribed.
One reason might be that it is difficult to immediately see the health benefits of managing cholesterol. As a caregiver, you can help with:
- Education: Take time to sit down and talk about cholesterol and the risks associated if it isn’t well managed. Together, you might be able to find ways to make it easier for them to adhere to their medication schedule, such as utilizing a timed pill dispenser.
- Diet: Create weekly menus for your loved one that comply with their dietary restrictions but include healthy and tasty options. Consider including more high-fiber foods such as oatmeal and beans, while limiting foods high in saturated fats. The American Heart Association has a variety of menu-planning ideas you might find helpful. See recipes on the AHA’s website to learn more.
- Exercise: Exploring senior-friendly exercise options is another way you can help your loved one manage their cholesterol. Chair yoga, walking, and swimming are three popular activities. Another exercise program, created by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), can be done in the privacy of the senior’s own home. Go4Life is a fitness and physical activity program specifically designed for older adults. The Go4Life website has videos, tips sheets, safety advice, and more.
Senior living communities offer health assistance around the clock and provide programs to help residents with health concerns. We provide Live With Action programming, since physical activity is key to senior health and wellbeing.
If you think it is time to encourage a parent or other loved one to consider moving to a community, we understand that starting the conversation can sometimes be difficult. View our tips for having important conversations to help the discussions go smoothly.