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HEALTH AND FITNESS

Common elderly blood pressure issues and management tips

Blood pressure often changes as we age. In this useful article, we explore symptoms of blood pressure fluctuations, risks involved with it, and how lifestyle changes can help.

April 20, 2023

Doctor measuring blood pressure

It’s not uncommon for people to experience changes in their blood pressure as they get older, but age-related high or low blood pressure can be worrying or may be a sign of other conditions and health risk factors. Therefore, it’s important to know the signs of elderly blood pressure issues, what it could mean, when to visit a health professional and potential ways to help manage a blood pressure problem.

In this article, we look at blood pressure problem symptoms to look out for, risk factors and how lifestyle changes can be a big help in managing some kinds of blood pressure issues.

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Does blood pressure change with age?

Some people find that their normal blood pressure remains fairly stable throughout their life, but it’s quite common for people to discover that their blood pressure readings do change as they get older. In fact, 58% of people aged 65-75 have high blood pressure, compared to just 5% of those aged 16-24. Some people also have lower blood pressure as they age, which is less common.

Blood pressure often fluctuates throughout the day, and things such as how recently the individual has eaten and whether they have been on their feet for a long time can affect their blood pressure too.

 

High blood pressure in the elderly

What is a normal range for blood pressure in the elderly?

Everyone is different, so there can be lots of variety in what is ‘normal’ for any one individual with blood pressure. Some people have naturally low or higher blood pressure, which can be due to genetics as well as a range of other contributing factors. However, it’s generally considered that a normal blood pressure reading should be lower than 120/80. For those over the age of 80, this ‘normal’ range is increased to being under 150/90.

The first number of these readings is the systolic pressure, which is a measurement of the pressure against the arteries when the heart is pumping blood around the body.

The second number is diastolic pressure, which is a measurement of the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

What causes high blood pressure in elderly people?

There isn’t always a straightforward cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) in elderly people because there can be many factors that contribute to this issue. Naturally, arteries that carry blood around the body are known to stiffen somewhat with age, so this alone can result in higher blood pressure for those over 65s. Other potential high blood pressure risk factors can include any or all of the below:

  • Genetic factors i.e., a family history of hypertension, can mean an individual is more likely to develop high blood pressure as they get older
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Too much salt in the diet
  • Not enough fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight, especially around the middle.

Some medical conditions can also cause high blood pressure in elderly people, which is known as secondary hypertension. These conditions include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea (where the person temporarily stops breathing in their sleep)
  • Diabetes

Medications that an older adult takes can also cause high blood pressure in some cases.

Symptoms of elderly high blood pressure

There are usually no apparent symptoms of high blood pressure, so most people don’t realise that they have an issue unless their blood pressure is checked. In some rare cases, there can be symptoms such as headaches, nose bleeds and blurred vision, but most people will experience no signs at all.

For this reason, an estimated five million adults in the UK are thought to have undiagnosed high blood pressure.

If you, or someone you know, is worried about blood pressure, it’s important to get this checked at your GP clinic.

Female nurse taking blood pressure of elderly


Problems that can be caused by high blood pressure in the elderly

If diagnosed or untreated, high blood pressure can be a condition that can cause serious health problems.

Those with untreated hypertension can have a significantly increased risk of:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Vascular dementia
  • Vision problems.

 

Tips for managing elderly high blood pressure

The first thing is always to seek professional medical advice if worried about potentially having high blood pressure. If a hypertension diagnosis is given, some medication may be prescribed to help lower the blood pressure.

Additionally, there are often lifestyle measures that can be taken which can significantly impact high blood pressure and make a real difference to some of the risk levels involved. Managing high blood pressure in the elderly through lifestyle changes can often mean that medication isn’t necessarily needed long-term. Some of the lifestyle changes suggested may include:

Happy elderly couple buying fruits

 

Low blood pressure in the elderly

What causes elderly blood pressure to be low?

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is less common in the elderly but can also be a condition that requires treatment. There are several reasons why elderly blood pressure could be in a range that is considered low, which include:

  • Having a naturally low blood pressure, due to genetics and/or a healthy and very active lifestyle (which usually causes no health concerns)
  • Taking a medication that is causing lower than normal blood pressure
  • Having diabetes, which can sometimes cause low blood pressure
  • Having a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease, which may result in low blood pressure, or the medications taken to treat the condition can also sometimes have this effect too
  • Having an issue with adrenal glands, which can lower the blood pressure
  • Having heart problems can result in low blood pressure
  • Having anaemia, which can sometimes mean that blood pressure is lower than normal
  • Going into shock. This can sometimes happen after an injury or trauma, where the blood pressure drops as a result of blood loss, a serious burn, a significant allergic reaction or a bacterial infection.

 

Symptoms of elderly low blood pressure

Elderly low blood pressure doesn’t always come with signs to look out for either, but there may be some symptoms shown. Unfortunately, these can sometimes be overlooked or thought to be related to another condition or issue, so it’s important to get the blood pressure checked if experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy when standing up from a seat or getting up from lying down
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Being very thirsty or dehydrated
  • Having blurred vision
  • Being more fatigued than usual
  • Not being able to concentrate as usual
  • Skin that is cold, clammy and pale.

 

Problems that can be caused by low blood pressure in the elderly

If low blood pressure in the elderly isn’t diagnosed or treated effectively, it can sometimes result in issues such as:

  • Falls and fall-related injuries, usually due to dizziness or fainting when moving around
  • An increased risk of heart problems, as the heart needs to work harder to pump the blood around the body
  • The body going into shock, where organs are not getting the blood supplied to them that they need to function properly, and so the body tries to compensate for this by shutting them down to conserve oxygen and blood
  • An increased risk of developing blood clots

 

Tips for managing elderly low blood pressure

The way that low blood pressure is tackled once diagnosed will depend on what is causing it. There may be new medications prescribed by the GP or changes in medication if it’s determined that an existing medicine is potentially what’s causing the problem.

If the issue is due to the adrenal glands, hormone-based treatment may be required.

If the elderly low blood pressure is caused by a neurological condition, a nerve-stimulating medication may be prescribed.

There can also be lifestyle and behavioural changes that might be able to help. It’s important to discuss these with the GP before trying as they won’t be suitable for everyone with low blood pressure. These elderly low blood pressure management tips can include:

  • Wearing compression stockings, which can help improve circulation and increase blood pressure.
  • Moving slowly when standing up or getting up from lying down to minimise dizziness and the risk of falling.
  • Avoiding long periods of standing up.
  • Drinking and eating little and often throughout the day to stay hydrated and avoid blood pressure drops that can occur after eating a larger meal.

Elderly woman drinking water

 

Additional peace of mind with elderly blood pressure concerns

If you, or an older loved one, are experiencing problems with either high or low blood pressure, it can be a genuine concern that something could happen when no one is around to help. Low blood pressure can increase someone’s fall risk, and high blood pressure could also increase the risk of a medical emergency, which can be immensely worrying for the older person, along with their family and friends.

An elderly fall alarm is a device designed to be worn around the neck or on the wrist and automatically detects if the wearer has a fall. Therefore, even if the SOS button isn’t pressed, the fall detection technology will activate. The alarm system instantly raises an alert with TakingCare’s UK-based Emergency Resolution Team, who will speak to the alarm wearer through the alarm unit. They will know who has fallen and where they live so that help can be arranged, even if the individual is unable to speak.

This can bring real peace of mind to those with elderly blood pressure issues or any other age-related concerns that help can be reached 24/7, if it is ever needed.

View the full range of TakingCare Personal Alarms.

 

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Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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