High cholesterol is sometimes a mystery to people. After all, it’s not something you can see, and it typically doesn’t have any symptoms. That can make people ignore their cholesterol levels or think that having high cholesterol isn’t really a problem. However, high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Understanding what cholesterol is and how it affects health may help to demystify your aging relative’s cholesterol levels.
The Mayo Clinic describes cholesterol as “a waxy substance.” The body uses it to make new cells. Cholesterol is produced in the liver, but it is also present in some of the foods people eat, like meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. The high amounts of saturated and trans fats in those foods cause the liver to kick into overdrive and produce even more cholesterol than the body needs, causing cholesterol levels to rise and possibly reach unhealthy levels.
Cholesterol levels are measured using a blood test. Doctors look at total cholesterol levels as well as LDL and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the bad kind. HDL is the good kind. Total cholesterol level should be 200 mg/dL or lower. Ideally, LDL cholesterol should be at 100 mg/dL or lower.
Negative Effects of Cholesterol
When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up on the walls of arteries, forming plaques. Plaques can narrow the arteries, impeding blood flow. This can cause:
- Chest Pain: When blood flow to the heart is affected, your aging relative may experience pain in the chest, called angina.
- Heart Attack: When plaques tear away or rupture, the body forms a blood clot at the sight. This can cause a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart and causes a heart attack.
- Stroke: A stroke is like a heart attack except that the blockage occurs in a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain.
Lowering Cholesterol Levels
When an older adult has high cholesterol, doctors may prescribe medications to help bring the levels down. In addition, the senior may be advised to make some lifestyle changes, including:
- Eating a diet that is low in salt and focuses on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Eat less fat from animals and consume good fats in moderation.
- Lose weight.
- Stop smoking.
- Increase physical activity.
- Reduce stress.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Senior care can help your aging relative to take steps toward reducing their cholesterol. Senior care providers can remind them to take medications. A senior care provider can also cook healthy meals that may help the older adult to lose weight. A senior care provider can also be a great way to help lower stress levels since your loved one will know they have someone they can rely on for help and support.