When elderly parents — or any of us — get a blood test for cholesterol, the laboratory takes measures on levels of High Cholesterol (HDL), and Low Cholesterol (LDL). The total combined number for HDL and LDL should, optimally, be below 200 milligrams per a defined unit of blood (deciliter, or dL of blood). Anything above that could indicate high cholesterol. At the same time, the specific numbers are important: having HDL below 40 milligrams/dL for men, and below 50 milligrams/dL for women, can actually increase the risk of heart disease. (Remember, HDL is “good” cholesterol.)

High cholesterol in the blood has no symptoms. People don’t generally experience any symptoms from high cholesterol in and of itself, therefore many people don’t even know their cholesterol is too high. For seniors, it’s particularly important to get screened for high cholesterol. Cholesterol levels rise as we age. Particularly, women’s LDL levels tend to increase after menopause.

Old age is one of many risk factors. People who smoke cigarettes, or have high blood pressure, or a family history of early heart disease can also affect LDL levels. For older adults with high cholesterol, it’s critically important to work with a physician to determine a goal for lower LDL and healthy lifestyle habits.

Lowering cholesterol has a huge effect on cardiovascular health. High levels of LDL (“bad”), combined with some of the above mentioned risk factors, can increase the likelihood of heart disease or heart attack. At the same time, appropriately high levels of good (HDL) cholesterol can help protect against heart attack, stroke and even dementia.

There are some prescribed medications which can help to lower cholesterol levels. But, with or without medications,a healthy lifestyle and regular screenings are key to maintaining desirable cholesterol levels.

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– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: jdmiller@homecarepartners.biz ; or online at: www.homecarepartnersma.com

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