Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Since 1963, the president of the United States has declared each February to be "American Heart Month" to raise awareness and share information about heart disease.
High blood pressure-anything over 140/80 mm Hg-is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.
Researchers at Hebrew SeniorLife's Institute for Aging Research have made exciting discoveries about blood pressure that help to promote cardiovascular-and overall-health, especially for older adults:
- Lewis Lipsitz, M.D., director of the Institute for Aging Research and one of Boston's "top doctors" (Boston Magazine) was the first scientist to discover that low blood pressure after meals contributes to falls in older adults. He also discovered that adults with certain cardiovascular risk factors often develop abnormalities in cerebral blood flow regulation that can cause "silent" strokes. These stroke may contribute to a number of conditions that often affect seniors, including falls, cognitive dysfunction and depression.
This knowledge has resulted in changes in medical practice such as avoiding blood pressure medications before meals and encouraging exercise after eating.
- Ihab Hajjar, M.D., former associate director of the Institute's Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, found that high blood pressure, left untreated in a young adult, may make it difficult to manage everyday activities, like lifting objects, climbing stairs, or bathing, later in life. It may also impact the motor skills necessary to perform daily activities like cooking and grooming.
"This adds another dimension to how we think about high blood pressure," says Dr. Hajjar. "We always think of it as a risk factor for stroke, heart failure, and coronary artery disease, but this study shows that elevated blood pressure also tends to affect our independence and functional abilities."
Nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure, including 65 percent of older adults. But the news is not all bad, says Dr. Lipsitz.
Lifestyle choices, including exercise, proper nutrition, and drug therapies, can keep blood pressure in check. Regular checkups with your doctor to check your blood pressure will ensure that high blood pressure is detected . . . and treated early.
Dr. Lipsitz suggests the following tips for keeping your blood pressure under control. Download PDF "50 Tips for Healthy Aging".
Visit these Web sites for more information on heart health:
Lewis Lipsitz, M.D., is a geriatrician at Hebrew SeniorLife and director of its Institute for Aging Research, where he holds the Irving and Edyth S. Usen and Family Chair in Medical Research. His research focuses on abnormal blood pressure regulation and its relationship to falls and syncope (fainting) in the elderly. Dr. Lipsitz, who is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is also the vice president of academic medicine at Hebrew SeniorLife and chief of gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.