In-Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Hypertension
Hypertension, or "high blood pressure," is one of the most common of all chronic diseases. Nearly 25% of Americans have high blood pressure. And it becomes more common the older we get.
May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. This is a great time to learn more about what seniors can do to control hypertension. Professional in-home caregivers know that following your healthcare provider's care instructions can make all the difference in managing this condition. Here are some basic things you should know:
Q: What is hypertension?
Every time the heart beats, it pumps blood through all the blood vessels of the body. This creates pressure on the walls of those blood vessels. Without high enough blood pressure, the circulatory system could not carry the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need. But sometimes blood pressure can get too high—above normal, healthy levels.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, there are often no clear signs. A person may have very high blood pressure for many years and not know it. This is why hypertension is sometimes called "the silent killer." After a time, signs sometimes appear, but they can be vague: headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, a feeling of fullness in the head. And many other health problems can also cause these same symptoms.
Q: What causes hypertension?
Often, there is no clear cause for hypertension. About 90% of cases fall into this group—called primary or essential hypertension. In the remaining cases, high blood pressure is caused by other medical conditions, such as a problem with the kidneys, cardiovascular system, thyroid or adrenal gland. This is called secondary hypertension. Knowing about the two kinds of hypertension is important, because a patient may be able to deal with secondary hypertension by getting treatment for the other health problem that is causing it.
Q: Why is hypertension so dangerous?
If high blood pressure goes untreated, it can lead to serious, life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, blood vessel damage, kidney failure and vision problems.
Q: How can in-home care help seniors manage hypertension?
So far, there is no cure for hypertension (except in situations where another, treatable disease is causing the blood pressure to rise). But the condition can be controlled effectively, reducing the risk of serious complications. Treatment usually includes a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. If your loved one is finding it a challenge to follow the healthcare provider's instructions, a trained professional in-home caregiver can provide the assistance that brings peace of mind for senior and family members alike. A trained in-home caregiver can help in several ways:
Help your loved one measure blood pressure. If your loved one's doctor recommends the use of a home monitoring device, a home health aide can assist with using the device, and help record the results as recommended.
Promote a healthy diet. For seniors with high blood pressure, diet makes all the difference. Healthy foods can help your loved one maintain a healthy weight. And following a low-sodium diet is usually especially important. In-home caregivers know that this can be a challenge. The solution? Preparing delicious meals with alternative seasonings. Your loved one will be pleased to find out that unsalted food doesn't have to be bland.
Encourage your loved one to be physically active. Exercise promotes a healthy weight and helps lower blood pressure through better physical fitness. No matter what your loved one's health status, the doctor will probably "prescribe" more activity. An in-home caregiver can encourage your loved one to be active, transport him or her to fitness opportunities, and above all, can be there to provide an extra measure of confidence.
Medication management. Lifestyle changes may not be enough to help keep your loved one's blood pressure at a healthy level. If the healthcare provider has recommended medications, it's important that your loved one take them at the right time and in the right way. A home health aide can provide medication reminders, and be alert to side effects such as dizziness or confusion.
Transport your loved one to healthcare appointments. Regular medical care is so important for hypertension patients—yet as working family caregivers know, physicians usually keep the same hours as they do. When loved ones can no longer drive, an in-home caregiver can ensure that they arrive at scheduled appointments on time.
Provide companionship. You might be surprised to know that loneliness is a risk factor for hypertension (see "Eight Reasons to Be Socially Engaged" in the September 2009 issue of Caring Right at Home to learn more about this research). An in-home caregiver can help your loved one get out and about to meet with friends or go to the senior center. And above all, the in-home caregiver is there for your loved one, helping dispell the boredom and depression that can result from spending too much time alone.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, sponsors National High Blood Pressure Education Month, and offers consumer information and updates about hypertension.
The High Blood Pressure information center of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website features information and updates for seniors and family caregivers.
The American Heart Association offers information, support and low-sodium recipes in their High Blood Pressure resource center.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.