Senior Living Care Blog

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Posted by Jackson Bentley on Mar 5, 2019 11:00:00 AM

Atherosclerosis is a chronic condition that can occur in individuals over 60. Atherosclerosis occurs through the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which slowly blocks arteries and puts blood flow at risk. As is the case for putting blood flow at risk, this condition has been linked to the cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.


According to Webmd, Atherosclerosis can occur after years of accumulated damage to the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the entire body. After years of high blood pressure, smoking, or high cholesterol, damage to these blood vessels leads to the formation of plaque.


Over the years, even the accumulation of white blood cells attempting to fight off bad cholesterol will gradually turn into plaque that can block arteries. When plaque gets bad enough, it can create blockage, putting your senior at increased risk for stroke and other health problems. As arteries narrow, the condition becomes more severe, threatening to choke off blood flow or even rupture and cause blood clot. There are three main kinds of cardiovascular disease that can be caused by Atherosclerosis.


Coronary Artery Disease

Having plaque in the heart’s arteries can cause what is known as Angina, aka chest pain. A sudden rupture in the plaque and clotting of the blood can cause the heart muscle to die, also known as a heart attack.


Cerebrovascular Disease

This is when plaque in the brain’s arteries ruptures and creates blood clots. This results in a stroke, which can cause permanent brain damage. Temporary blockages in the arteries can also result in something known as transient ischemic attacks (TIA’s) which are the warning signs of a stroke.


Peripheral Artery Disease

Narrowing that occurs in the arteries of the legs due to plaque build up can cause poor circulation, making it very painful for your senior to walk. It can also cause to take extended periods of time to heal. Severe disease can also result in the need for quick medical amputation.


Atherosclerosis can start early, but it generally does not become cause for concern until older age. In 2001, a study of 250 relatively healthy people found that 52% had the early onset symptoms of atherosclerosis, and 85% of those older than 50 had the condition. If you are 40 and healthy, you have about a 50% chance of developing atherosclerosis in your lifetime. Fortunately, rates of death from atherosclerosis have fallen 25% in the last three decades.



Risk Factors for Seniors

A cigarette pushed into an ash tray. Smoking is a risk factor that can lead to atherosclerosis.

Experts all agree that atherosclerosis is a condition that can get worse over time, but that it’s also preventable. Here are the biggest contributing causes to the condition to look out for.

  • Smoking
  • Lack of Exercise
  • Excess Alcohol Intake
  • Lack of Fruits and Veggies
  • Stress
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity


For seniors who are at risk for developing Atherosclerosis, for example anyone who has suffered a heart attack or stroke, a baby aspirin a day can help to prevent clots from forming. You should ask your doctor about starting any potential treatment plans for you senior’s possible Atherosclerosis.



How to Prevent Atherosclerosis in Seniors

Here are the several ways in which you can help your senior prevent Atherosclerosis. It involves careful lifestyle changes and support from your doctor.


Lifestyle Changes

Reducing the potential risk factors that can lead to atherosclerosis will help slow down or stop the process of this condition from worsening. In other words, engaging in a healthy diet and exercise plan along with refraining from smoking can help improve your conditions. These types of lifestyle changes will not remove a buildup of plaque overnight but they can decrease your chances of heart attack and stroke.



There are several medications available for helping treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Taking these drugs can halt atherosclerosis and lower the chances of a heart attack or stroke.



Utilizing a thin tube, doctors pierce into a diseased artery and can then view blockages on a live X-ray screen. Angioplasty, also called stenting, can help open up a blocked artery. This helps reduce the symptoms of Atherosclerosis but it can not fully prevent heart attacks from happening.


Bypass Surgery

In this type of treatment, surgeons will harvest a healthy blood vessel, usually from another part of the body such as in the leg or chest, and use it to bypass a blocked area of the arteries. This procedure is the most dangerous and is generally saved for people with significant limitations.


Along with changing diet, exercise is always a good way to get healthier and even reduce risk of health problems like cardiovascular diseases. Many senior individuals may think that exercise can be hard because of the physical complications with aging. However, there are a number of easier exercises that seniors can participate in to get healthier. Exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, walking, or even jogging, can all go a long way in helping maintain a healthy weight and prevent cardiovascular problems and even falls.


It should be noted that if you or a loved one is experiencing problems that may be related to heart disease, the best thing to do is contact a medical professional immediately. Feeling light-headedness, dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and more are all signs there may be a problem with heart health



In Conclusion

Heart and cardiovascular disease is a major problem across the country and is one the leading causes of death for all Americans, however, seniors are at higher risk of dealing with the problems. One of the main causes of heart disease is atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in an artery that can inhibit blood from reaching body tissue and organs which can eventually lead to problems like heart failure. Luckily, there are a number of preventative measures that you can take to reduce the risk of dealing with some type of cardiovascular disease. Quitting smoking, changing diet habits, and exercising more are all effective ways to do this.


Making these changes in your life may be hard, especially if you are living independently. However, with the help of a caregiver or assisted living facility, finding time to exercise or changing diet can be easier. At Landmark Senior Living, we have a dedicated team of caregivers that can help with medical problems. Our facilities will also provide a number of social events and activities for our residents to participate in. If you are interested and would like more information please reach out to our admissions staff today.



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Topics: Senior Health

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