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Cholesterol Treatment in the Elderly

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

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The risks associated with high cholesterol have been well-documented, yet compliance with treatment schedules is still low. In fact, more than 50 percent of Americans have high cholesterol, yet only one in five people are actively treating it through diet, exercise or even medication. Among the elderly, treatment compliance is low, even though the benefits of these methods are widely known.

High cholesterol is one of the main contributors to cardiovascular disease. Strokes and heart attacks are common outcomes of this disease, although lowered heart function can also result. The World Health Organization approximates that 20 percent of strokes and 50 percent of heart attacks are attributed to high cholesterol. There are three types of cholesterol or fat in the bloodstream, some of it benefiting the body while others can be dangerous if they are too high.

  • LDL – also known as “bad” cholesterol since it clogs arteries. Levels about 70 mg/dl should be avoided and if the level is higher, it should be actively treated.

  • HDL – also known as “good” cholesterol and can help the body by attaching to the bad cholesterol, pushing it to the liver where it can be filtered out of the body. Levels of HDL cholesterol should be 60 mg/dl or higher.

  • Triglycerides – While it is not a form of cholesterol, it is also a form of fat that should be kept to levels below 150 mg/dl. It can also clog arteries and cause significant damage to the cardiovascular system.

The goal is to lower bad cholesterol, but also to maintain high enough levels of good cholesterol at the same time. For many people, a combination of a healthy diet, increased exercise, and weight loss can lower cholesterol. For those who are not able to achieve a healthy good/bad cholesterol ratio through these methods, medication can be warranted.

Coronary Heart Disease: Another Reason to Focus on Cholesterol Levels

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death among individuals age 65 and older, contributing to death in more than 84 percent of cases (American Family Physicians, 2005). Even though a healthy diet and exercise are helpful, many patients with a diagnosis of CHD will need medication to help lower bad cholesterol and increase the level of good cholesterol.

One of the concerns among physicians, however, is the low compliance rate in the elderly population who are taking cholesterol medication. It is important that not only should the patient understand his or her treatment plan, but caregivers who assist the patient should understand the plan as well.

Caregivers Can Help with Medication Compliance

Despite the type of medications prescribed, it is important to take them as directed by the physician. Some studies note that medications that are prescribed to treat symptom-less conditions, like high cholesterol, are less likely to be taken as directed. Patients, and some caregivers, mistakenly think that because there are no symptoms to a condition, the effect of taking the medications is somehow diminished. In fact, ignoring or treating these conditions irregularly can prove devastating in the long run.

 

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