Blood pressure is a reading of a person’s blood force pushing against his or her artery walls. The result is typically expressed with two numbers, such as this: 140/71. The first (top) number is the systolic pressure, created by the contraction of the heart as it pushes out blood. The second (bottom) number is the diastolic pressure, created when the heart fills with blood as it relaxes.
Older adults and high blood pressure: What’s normal, what’s not
Blood pressure readings of 120/80 are considered to be normal. High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, has been defined as 140/90, with readings between normal and hypertension levels labeled as prehypertension. Because high blood pressure can lead to major health issues, it’s an important condition to address, even if you don’t feel ill. When it isn’t effectively addressed through lifestyle changes and/or medication, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, eye problems and more. So, if you need to see your doctor about it, be prepared to discuss your lifestyle (eating, drinking, smoking, exercising and so forth), along with drugs you take, including vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter medications.
The National Institute on Aging provides an excellent overview on older adults and high blood pressure, also providing additional resources on the subject.
High Blood Pressure Readings for Older Adults
There has been significant debate among experts about whether medication should be used to bring blood pressure down to below 140/90 in older adults because that often requires multiple drugs. These drugs sometimes interact with other medications, plus they can cause dizziness – which boosts the risk of falls. On the other hand, people with higher readings are more at risk for life-threatening conditions. In November 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association updated their guidelines to address this situation.
NPR.org reported upon their response, which was to update their guidelines for people with heart disease, diabetes and/or chronic kidney disease, with the target blood pressure for this population now being 130/80. This will cause an estimated 15 million more people, aged 45 to 75, to be diagnosed with hypertension, along with eight million more who will likely be told to start taking medications – with 14 million more people likely to be told to increase their current medications.
If you believe you fall into any of these categories, you should contact your doctor to discuss treatment.
How to Manage High Blood Pressure Risks
The good news is that, for most people, blood pressure can be controlled. Lifestyle changes that help to lower your risk for hypertension include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising daily, eating a healthy diet that includes less salt, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, quitting smoking, getting a good night’s sleep and managing stress. If you’re currently being treated for hypertension, do not stop taking your medications without your doctor’s approval even when you make these important lifestyle changes.
Developing High Blood Pressure in Your 80s and 90s
Although developing hypertension in your middle ages is a risk factor for dementia, people who initially develop this condition in their 80s and 90s may actually receive some protection against dementia. WebMD provides information about the study that led to this conclusion, published in January 2017. This protection against dementia may occur, researchers suggest, because people who reach the eighth or ninth decade of life may need that extra blood flow for normal brain functioning.