Managing Blood Pressure: What Seniors Need to Know

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July 15, 2023

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects over 70% of seniors in the United States [1]. It is a health condition that often goes unnoticed until it causes serious complications, often being described as “silent but deadly.” As years pass, the risk of developing high blood pressure increases. However, knowledge and proactive management can make all the difference in your likelihood to avoid and/or recover from high blood pressure. 

Understanding Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. It is measured by using two values: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Healthy blood pressure is typically around 120/80 mmHg [2]. When readings consistently become higher than this range, it can indicate high blood pressure. Seniors with high blood pressure are at an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney issues, and other health complications. 

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure in Seniors

Many factors can contribute to the development of high blood pressure in seniors. Some of the most common risk factors include: 

  • Age-Related Changes: As we grow older, our blood vessels start to lose the elasticity they once had. This causes them to become stiffer, making it more difficult for them to expand and contract efficiently. The reduced flexibility leads to increased resistance, which often results in high blood pressure. The walls of the arteries can also thicken and accumulate plaque with age, which only further narrows the blood vessels and raises blood pressure [3]. 
  • Lifestyle Choices: Your lifestyle decisions play a significant role in the development of high blood pressure. Unhealthy eating habits, such as consuming excessive amounts of sodium, saturated fats, and processed foods, can cause risk for elevated blood pressure levels. Additionally, a lack of physical exercise can also increase this risk, as regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, improve heart health, and lower blood pressure. Smoking cigarettes and/or drinking alcohol can also raise blood pressure and damage the blood vessels. Additionally, mental factors like stress and anxiety, as well as behavioral factors like poor stress management, also pose risks. 
  • Chronic Conditions [4]: Health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity can poorly affect blood pressure regulation mechanisms. For example, diabetes often damages blood vessels and impairs their ability to expand and contract, leading to higher blood pressure. Likewise, kidney disease can disrupt the balance of fluids and electrolytes in the body, affecting its control over blood pressure. Lastly, obesity puts additional strain on the heart and blood vessels. Certain medications and treatments used to manage chronic conditions can also have side effects that include high blood pressure. 

How to Manage High Blood Pressure

There are a multitude of things you can do to manage your high blood pressure, which may bring it down to a healthy level…

  • Regular Monitoring and Doctor Visits:
    Seniors should aim to monitor their blood pressure regularly at home using a blood pressure monitor. Keeping a record of readings in a journal can provide valuable insights and help identify any patterns or changes in pressure. Upper arm cuff monitors tend to be more reliable than wrist or finger devices. To monitor your blood pressure at home, start by sitting in a comfortable position with both feet flat on the floor. Relax your arm on a table or stable armrest, ensuring that the cuff is at heart level. Place the cuff on your bare arm. Read and follow the instructions provided on your specific monitor to ensure proper placement and procedures. Press the start button on the monitor to initiate the blood pressure measurement. Remain calm and still during the process. Once the measurement is complete, the monitor will display your systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as your heart rate. Finally, record these measurements in your journal, and repeat for accuracy if necessary [5].It is also essential to schedule regular visits with senior healthcare professionals for check-ups. These senior-focused primary care visits not only allow healthcare professionals to review your blood pressure readings and make adjustments to medications but also assess your overall health and make sure you’re on the right track!
    • Medication Adherence and Attention to Side Effects:
      If you have been prescribed medication for blood pressure, it is vital to take them exactly as directed by your healthcare provider. Missing doses or altering your prescribed regimen can negatively alter the effectiveness of the medication. There are also side effects that come with blood pressure medication that are well-worth familiarizing yourself with. Always communicate your concerns or adverse reactions to medications with your doctor.  
  • Changes in Diet [6]:
    The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or “DASH,” diet has been well researched in its effectiveness in lowering blood pressure. This diet prioritizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (poultry, fish, and legumes), and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet encourages the reduction of sodium intake, cutting back on processed foods, and incorporating potassium-rich foods (bananas, beans, spinach, etc.)Reducing sodium and increasing potassium is an important part of any blood pressure-reducing diet. Instead of eating processed and packaged foods, which are typically high in sodium, opt for fresh, homemade meals instead, if possible. If you are unable to cook or shop for groceries yourself, there are many senior meal services that can help!
  • Engaging in Physical Activity:
    Regular exercise is key to senior blood pressure management. Seniors should engage in an exercise routine approved by their healthcare provider in order to avoid strain or injury. However, low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, and gentle aerobics can help strengthen the heart, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure. Additionally, exercise has been known to increase feelings of happiness and reduce stress [7], which can also have a positive impact on blood pressure. 
  • Stress Management Techniques:
    Chronic stress can greatly contribute to high blood pressure. Prioritizing stress management techniques can help lower levels and promote overall well-being. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or simply engaging in hobbies that bring joy and relaxation, can all help reduce stress and therefore lower blood pressure. 

In conclusion, senior blood pressure management is a critical aspect of maintaining good health and well-being for seniors. By understanding the risks associated with high blood pressure, seniors can take the responsible steps towards managing their blood pressure effectively. With consistent efforts and support from healthcare professionals and family, seniors can ensure that they are reducing their risk of life-altering health conditions. It’s never too late to start taking control of your blood pressure and investing in your long-term health!