Although many Americans fret that old age will afflict them with cognitive impairment, from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it may be that their hearts will give way first.
Experts have expressed growing concern about increasing issues with rises in heart disease, especially in the elderly, and a new study appearing in the online medical journal “JAMA Cardiology” provides explanation why these fears are well-founded: After a period of decline, deaths due to heart failure are spiking.
As the Wall Street Journal reported: “The death rate from the chronic, debilitating condition [of heart failure] rose 20.7% between 2011 and 2017 and is likely to keep climbing sharply.”
That’s because the nation is graying rapidly, and heart conditions take their steepest toll on older patients. But rising rates of obesity and diabetes also have increased the prevalence of Americans with serious cardiac disease, leading to heart failure.
“The United States is now experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of older people dying from heart disease, and especially heart failure. This research underscores the importance of focusing on heart health in the population of people over age 65, which grew by 10 million between 2011 and 2017 and is projected to increase by another 22 million by 2030.
The newspaper noted that, “An estimated 6.2 million Americans suffer from heart failure, according to federal statistics. The American Heart Association predicts that more than 8 million will have the condition by 2030.”
The condition may be something of a misnomer. The heart doesn’t suddenly stop working. Instead, it fails over time, debilitating patients along the way. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood for the body’s needs. The risk increases with age. It can be caused by long-term high blood pressure or by damage to the heart. Medical advances help more people today survive heart attacks, but survivors are sometimes left with damage that makes it difficult for their hearts to pump adequately.”
Once the heart is injured and begins to decline, current treatments can be lacking. Instead, doctors emphasize that patients should protect their health and their hearts by exercising, eating in healthful ways, limiting their drinking, controlling their weight, and skipping smoking.
Older people may find they struggle, though, with weight gain, which the Washington Post reported, should not be considered a natural affliction of age. Seniors should force themselves to not only spend dedicated time in walking, swimming, or other appropriate exercise, they also should keep moving around the house and avoid becoming sedentary. They also may wish to work with trainers or knowledgeable folks at their gym or rec center, learning how to work with light weights to maintain muscle tone.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the significant benefits they may gain by staying healthy and well — and far from the health care system with its serious challenges with issues such as medical error, hospital acquired infections and deaths, and damaging misdiagnoses. We can’t blame and shame people if they fall or ill or suffer injuries. But all of us can help ourselves by minimizing our bad health habits and encouraging the good ones. These support wellness of not only the heart and body but also the brain. Exercise and healthful diet need not be difficult or burdensome. Give it a whirl and see.