Protecting Your Parent From Heart Disease
Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United Kingdom and affects around half a million people aged 75 or over. However, there are numerous contributory factors which can help you in protecting your parent from heart disease.
Smoking can damage the lining of a person’s arteries, which causes fatty material to build up. This in turn causes arteries to narrow, which can lead to problems such as angina, stroke or heart attacks. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risks of these problems, and the effects can be seen very quickly. Improvements in circulation and lung function can be seen within 2-12 weeks of quitting, and it only takes one year for a person’s risk of coronary heart disease to drop to around half that of a smoker.
A person is considered to have a family history of heart disease if they have a close male relative who was diagnosed when they were under 55 or a close female relative who was diagnosed under 65. Unfortunately, family history is known as a ‘non-modifiable’ risk factor because you cannot change it, but it should be considered when you are protecting your parent from heart disease, as it may highlight the importance of changing other factors.
The link between stress and heart disease is not clear, but it is known that in stressful situations the body releases adrenaline, which raises the heart rate and blood pressure. Stress may also lead to behaviours which can increase the risk of heart disease, such as drinking too much, smoking or eating unhealthy food. If you can help your parent to reduce their stress, this can help avoid the other factors which can make heart disease more likely.
Exercise increases your breathing and heart rate, which improves the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Elderly people in particular may be concerned about starting new physical activity, but gentle exercise such as walking is generally safe for most people. However, it may be worth consulting a healthcare professional before encouraging your parent to start a new fitness regime.
Monitoring Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. However, there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce blood pressure, including taking medication to lower it to a safer level. Regularly monitoring your parents’ blood pressure can identify if they have hypertension and allow for prompt intervention if it develops.
A diet high in saturated or trans fats can increase blood cholesterol levels. This can lead to plaques developing in your arteries, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Encouraging your parent to eat a healthy diet which is low in these fats and contains a high proportion of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce their blood cholesterol and therefore help to prevent the development of heart disease.
Obesity does not guarantee that a person will suffer from heart disease, but it does significantly increase the probability, especially if a person has a lot of abdominal fat. Helping your parent to lose weight may be one of the most effective things you can do to reduce their risk of heart disease, especially if it involves physical activity, as a sedentary lifestyle has been shown to be a risk factor in itself.
Reducing Alcohol Intake
It is well known that long-term heavy drinking can lead to heart disease because it increases blood pressure and weakens the heart muscle. However, even moderate drinking may be linked to an increased risk, so it could be worth trying to help your parents reduce their intake. Small amounts of alcohol may have a heart-protective effect, but the evidence for this remains unclear.
This list is not exhaustive, but it describes the key factors which could be considered when protecting your parent from heart disease.