According to the American Health Association, every 34 seconds, someone in the United States experiences a myocardial infarction (heart attack). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Each year, about 715,000 Americans experience a heart attack. Of these incidents, 525,000 are a first heart attack, and about 190,000 are a second heart attack. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight/obesity, and physical inactivity.
Rates of death from heart attack and cardiovascular disease are highest in persons age 65 and older. Therefore, it is important that those of us who care for seniors understand why and recognize the warning signs.
According to a summary fact sheet compiled by one retirement agency, the human heart starts to lose pumping power as people age. By the time a person reaches the age of 80, the heart’s resting capacity typically has been reduced by half. Depending on factors such as diet, lifestyle, and family history, over time the coronary arteries may develop a build-up of plaque, restricting blood flow and the supply of oxygen to and through the heart. Other chronic conditions associated with aging and physical inactivity might increase a person’s risk of heart disease too. A heart attack occurs when part of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply. A myocardial infarction (heart attack) can happen at any age, but risks generally begin to increase for men beginning at age 45 and for women at age 55.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that almost half (47%) of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. “This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.” Common warning signs include Chest pain or discomfort (e.g., sharp pain, heaviness, pressure)
Pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach Shortness of breath Nausea, light-headedness or cold sweats
In a 2005 survey reported by the CDC, most people – 92% of those surveyed – recognized chest pain as a symptom of heart attack. Only 27% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 911 when someone was having a heart attack. Symptoms often differ for men and women and can occur in a senior with no known risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure.
If you have questions about a senior’s risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke (more on that topic soon), consult your doctor. If your loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, do not delay: Call 911.
Knowledge is a powerful tool for calming uncertainty and fear. And for that reason, I also encourage my readers to consider taking a course in basic First Aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Such classes are available through local chapters of the American Red Cross and American Heart Association and other community organizations.
Knowledge is not only a powerful tool for alleviating uncertainty and fear, it also saves lives: According to the National Institutes of Health, the life expectancy of the average American increased by 6.6 years between 1970 and 2005. Nearly 5 of those “additional” years (4.7 or some 70% of the gain) are due to reductions in death from cardiovascular disease. This is great news! Earlier recognition and treatment and advanced technologies have improved heart attack survival rates and enabled many people – seniors included – to bounce back from what is surely a painful and frightening experience.
Don’t be like this guy!
So, in sum: Be informed, be empowered, and be positive! For all of your senior living options, call Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors!