September 20, 2013

By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA

Some say, “Home is where the heart is.” If that’s the case, then it’s important to keep your heart healthy. Heart disease isn’t inevitable for older adults. Certainly, there can be genetic factors, but with a good diet, exercise program and prevention care plan, older adults can live a long healthy life that does not include heart disease.

Heart disease can strike anyone, but older adults are hit the hardest. According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease affects 21% of men in the sixty to seventy-nine age range and 10% of women of the same age. Men are more likely to have a heart attack at an earlier age than women (64 years of age for men and 72 years of age for women). 

Different Gender, Different Symptoms

It’s important to keep in mind that symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks in men and women are not always the same. Both men and women can feel an extraordinary pressure on their chest as a warning signal of a heart attack, however, many women experience less intense warning signs that may easily be mistaken for other, less serious disorders such as influenza or acid reflux.

Women should be aware of the following warning signs which may actually indicate a heart attack. Quick response and immediate treatment may save your life or the life of a loved one:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Profound fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • A feeling of pressure in the upper back
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or lower chest

Older adults need to be proactive when it comes to their health care. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in U.S. women and one out of three women die from heart attacks – that is one woman every minute.Unfortunately, as most women have heart attacks at an older age, they are more likely to die from the attack. Of all individuals that have heart attacks, 80% who die as a result are sixty-five and older. Having a heart disease care plan can keep you from becoming a statistic.

Atrial Fibrilation & Other Heart Diseases

As bad as heart disease is, it can contribute to other even more debilitating conditions such as strokes, angina pectoris, medical procedures, and atrial fibrillation to name a few.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body.” Atrial fibrillation causes the upper two chambers of the heart to beat irregularly and out of sync with the lower chambers. Warning signs can include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and general weakness. If this is something you suffer from, it is important to have an atrial fibrillation care plan to avoid trips to the emergency room.

Here are a few important items to keep in mind to help you formulate a heart disease care plan.

  • Diet – There are several lifestyle choices that are completely within your control. One of these is your diet. A healthy diet can help a great deal in preventing heart disease. Consider reducing the sodium in your diet as well as the amount of meat you consume. Meals lower in fat and calories can help you maintain a stable and healthy weight. If unsure what your diet should contain, check with your medical care provider or nutritionist.
  • Exercise – Exercise doesn’t need to be a chore. Simply walking each day can help obtain and keep a healthy heart.
  • Blood Pressure and Cholesterol – It is important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol readings in the healthy range. Have both checked when you see your doctor. It is also a good idea to obtain an at home blood pressure kit. You will be able to keep a log of readings that can give a better picture than a one-time measurement.
  • Ankle-Brachial Index Test – After reaching the age of sixty, you will want to have the ankle-brachial index test once every two years. This test determines the pulses in your feet. Plaque in the leg arteries can build up and lead to peripheral artery disease.
  • Watch for Warning Signs – Both heart disease and atrial fibrillation have warning signs that include shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, and weakness. In addition, atrial fibrillation warning signs can include racing or thumping heartbeats or skipped heartbeats.

With a few simple lifestyle changes, complete and timely checkups from your primary care provider, and a heart disease care plan, your heart can stay healthy for as long as you need it.