Your blood pressure is the barometer of your overall circulatory health. Your circulatory system is made up of your heart and blood vessels, which carry oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. But did you know that over 70% of U.S. seniors have high blood pressure? Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is a major health risk that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease.
You can help your elderly loved one take an active role in lowering their blood pressure with simple lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity and eating healthy, balanced meals. If your aging parent lives in an assisted living community, ask about exercise programs and meal options that are low in sodium. But if changes in lifestyle don’t help, prescription medications have proven very effective in lowering blood pressure.
Blood pressure often rises with age, but experts agree that lower numbers are better for overall health. Blood pressure is measured in two numbers: systolic and diastolic. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure caused by the heart contracting and squeezing out blood. The bottom number is diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood.
Guidelines for blood pressure targets in older adults differ among medical organizations. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) updated their guidelines in 2017 to recommend men and women who are 65 or older aim for a blood pressure lower than 130/80 mm Hg.
|Blood pressure categories for adults 65+||Systolic mm Hg||Diastolic mm Hg|
|Low blood pressure||90 or lower||60 or lower|
|Normal blood pressure||Lower than 120||Lower than 80|
|Elevated blood pressure||120-129||Lower than 80|
|High blood pressure stage 1 (severe)||130-139||80-89|
|High blood pressure stage 2 (more severe)||140 or higher||90 or higher|
|High blood pressure crisis (see your doctor immediately)||180 or higher||120 or higher|
Older adults whose blood pressure is elevated but lower than 130/80 mm Hg can help regulate their blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity, eating a heart-healthy diet that’s low in salt, and limiting alcohol.
The updated ACC and AHA guidelines recommend that older adults with a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher be treated with medication. As blood pressure continues to rise, seniors will enter stage 1 to indicate that hypertension is at a severe level. If numbers continue to increase, seniors will be in stage 2. If blood pressure continues to increase, seniors will be in a high blood pressure crisis. Previous recommendations set the threshold for high blood pressure treatment with medication for adults 65 or older at 150/80 mm Hg.
This change aims to reduce the risk of heart disease in older adults. However, your loved one’s doctor will assess their overall health and any other conditions before determining the best course of action to help your aging parent control their blood pressure.
Since blood pressure tends to increase with age, some medical societies argue about the effectiveness and safety of treating older adults for high blood pressure. Overall, older adults should aim for lower blood pressure numbers, but a blood pressure reading of 90/60 mm Hg or lower is considered too low (hypotension). Excessively low blood pressure may cause dizziness or fainting and increase the risk of falls.
Doctors don’t completely understand why blood pressure tends to rise with age. Blood pressure is the force of blood as it flows through the arteries. As you age, your arteries may narrow and become stiff. Narrow arteries lead to an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries and the heart itself.
In some cases, high blood pressure could be a result of lifestyle, the environment, certain medications, or other conditions such as sleep apnea, kidney disease, or thyroid problems.
As you help monitor your loved one’s blood pressure, keep in mind that if numbers fluctuate slightly throughout the day, that’s normal. Several factors influence your blood pressure numbers. For example, your blood pressure may be lower if you’re resting and higher if you’re stressed. This means you may have a normal reading in the morning and an elevated number in the afternoon.
If you’re concerned about excessive fluctuation in your loved one’s blood pressure numbers, keep the following tips in mind:
Your loved one’s doctor may want you to keep a blood pressure diary with several readings a day for a couple of weeks to monitor any variations.
Maintaining healthy blood pressure doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple lifestyle changes can help:
In some cases, diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower blood pressure. Your loved one may be having a difficult time achieving significant changes in their lifestyle, or their hypertension may be too severe to treat with diet and exercise alone.
Several types of medication are available to treat high blood pressure. Talk to your elderly loved one’s doctor about whether a combination of medication, diet, and lifestyle changes may help control their blood pressure.
American Heart Association. (2017, November 15). Experts recommend lower blood pressure for older Americans. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/experts-recommend-lower-blood-pressure-for-older-americans
American Heart Association. (n.d.). Low blood pressure – when blood pressure is too low. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/low-blood-pressure-when-blood-pressure-is-too-low
American Heart Association. (n.d.). Monitoring your blood pressure at home. www.heart.org. (n.d.). https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings/monitoring-your-blood-pressure-at-home
American Heart Association. (n.d.). Understanding blood pressure readings. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings
New ACC/AHA high blood pressure guidelines lower definition of hypertension. American College of Cardiology. (2017, November 13). https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2017/11/08/11/47/mon-5pm-bp-guideline-aha-2017
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, December 29). Dash eating plan. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). High blood pressure and older adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/high-blood-pressure-and-older-adults#how
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.