How to Understand the Dangers of Atherosclerosis in the Elderly

Promoting Senior Heart and Brain Health

Atherosclerosis Can Cause Decreased Brain Function

Atherosclerosis, described as a hardening and narrowing of the arteries, has long been associated with heart disease and heart attacks. As plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries, it creates a narrowing of the passageway, restricting blood flow to essential organs like the brain and heart. As the build-up increases over time, the risk of a blockage becomes more serious. Elderly people are at greater risk, both because build-up has been accumulating for a longer period of time and because they are more likely to experience serious complications when a blockage does happen.

While the potential for heart attack and stroke related to atherosclerosis has long been recognized, a new study conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has found a link between asymptomatic narrowing of the arteries and cognitive impairment. The study found that people who had a significant amount of build-up in their arteries experienced a greater degree of decreased cognitive function than could be accounted for by normal aging processes.

Indicators of Excessive Plaque Build-Up

Because plaque build-up often doesn’t exhibit identifiable symptoms until a heart attack or stroke occurs, doctors look for risk factors that could indicate a potential problem. These risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

Although the presence of risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean a person has atherosclerosis, they can help identify people who may develop the condition.

Treatment Options for Atherosclerosis

Addressing the risk factors for atherosclerosis can help prevent the condition and may also help reverse it if hardening of the arteries has already begun. Conservative measures include diet changes, exercise, reducing stress, and eliminating cigarettes. Some of these changes may prove difficult for elderly people, especially if they have decreased mobility, but caregivers can help encourage and motivate them to make positive lifestyle changes.

Sometimes, lifestyle changes aren’t enough to reverse the process of atherosclerosis. Elderly people are considered high risk, especially if they have a predisposing condition like high blood pressure or diabetes. For these people, medication can help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment, heart disease, and stroke associated with atherosclerosis.

How an In-Home Caregiver Can Help

Lifestyle changes can be a difficult prospect, especially for elderly people who are living alone and don’t have family nearby. An in-home caregiver can provide the emotional support and companionship needed to facilitate positive changes like incorporating exercise into the daily routine and making healthier food choices. He or she can also provide medication reminders, pick up prescriptions, prepare healthy meals, and assist with regular walking and exercise. If you are concerned about the needs of an elderly loved one, in-home care may be the answer you’re looking for to help prevent serious complications like cognitive impairment and heart disease.

Photo by The U.S. National Archives

Photo by amslerPIX

Originally posted 2014-12-02 10:30:55.

Joyce Apperson

About Joyce Apperson

Joyce Apperson is a Registered Nurse and Geriatric Care Manager with 15 plus years of experience working with advocating for seniors. She is the founder and President of Caring Connection, Inc., which provides in-home care and geriatric care management in Harford County, Baltimore County and Cecil County in Maryland. Joyce currently serves on the Harford County Advisory Board on Aging. In addition to writing articles here for the Caring Connection's blog, Joyce has been a regular contributor on senior care topics to the County Gazette.