The heart of the matter
Seniors are more at risk for heart disease, but mindful lifestyle choices can lower risk and even reverse damage.
Fourteen years ago, Craig Blackstock suffered from ventricular fibrillation, a serious cardiac rhythmic disturbance. Today, the 71-year-old has been problem-free by making lifestyle changes and with the help of modern medicine under the care of Dr. Richard Kacere.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Unfortunately, this is not breaking news or even current news. This has been the case for several years, perhaps decades.
In fact, heart disease continues to remain on the rise. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 84 million American adults have one or more types of cardiovascular disease. Over half are estimated to be age 60 and above. In addition, about 66 percent of cardiovascular disease deaths occur in people age 75 and older, and about 80 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older.
So, what is heart disease? It’s the term given to a group of health conditions that affect the heart. In the United States, the most common form is called coronary artery disease (CAD), which actually leads to coronary heart disease (CHD), although the terms are often used interchangeably. CAD is often responsible for serious cardiovascular events such as a heart attack, heart failure, chest pain and irregular heartbeat, also called arrhythmia.
In this advanced age of technology and medical breakthroughs, why does heart disease remain so prevalent in our society? Why haven’t these statistics changed?
“Yes, there have been medical breakthroughs that can help us repair a damaged heart, prolong life and decrease complications from heart disease,” says Dr. Eugene J. Ichinose, cardiologist for the Oklahoma Heart Institute. “But precaution to prevent heart disease remains essential in maintaining the quality of life.”
“Medicine is only going to do so much,” says Dr. Richard Kacere, cardiologist at St. John Medical Center. “It is ultimately the patient’s responsibility on whether or not they are willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their health.”
“There is no fast road to good health,” Kacere says. “That is why it is ultimately up to the patient on whether or not they get better. Lifestyle changes can be difficult, and the patient has got to be willing to work on them.”
Kacere and Ichinose agree that in today’s society, most people just want a quick fix instead of taking the steps necessary to adjust their lifestyle.
He also sees the abundance of fast food restaurants with highly processed food high in sugar and fats as a big part of the problem.
“People want fast and convenient,” Kacere says. “Fast food has become so accessible to the masses, and it is literally killing us.”
Ichinose also touts the benefits of good, old-fashioned diet and exercise.
“Don’t underestimate the power of food and exercise,” Ichinose says. “It is clear that a Mediterranean diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat has a beneficial effect on heart disease.
“Studies have also shown that as little as 10 minutes of walking per day can also have a positive effect on heart health.”
Heart disease in seniors
“Seniors are more at risk because we are seeing the effects of years of bad habits,” Kacere says. “It’s a cumulative effect, so if you smoked and drank in your 20s and 30s, the damage may not show up until you are in your 60s or 70s.”
According to Ichinose, seniors also have less physiological reserve, (a longer exposure to other disease processes) which makes the recovery process more arduous.
“For example, a 40-year-old with a heart attack, lung disease from years of smoking and mild kidney disease will be able to recover much more quickly than an 80-year-old with similar diseases,” Ichinose says.
Taking too many medications is another risk to the senior population. It’s a concept called polypharmacy, the use of more medications than one needs.
Kacere says the likelihood of polypharmacy increases as people age.
“When seniors take too many medicines at the same time, they can end up harming themselves,” he says. “When they see several doctors for different ailments, it is imperative that the doctors are all communicating with each other to avoid this problem.”
Ichinose encourages seniors to not give up on reaching their goals, even ones they had when they were much younger.
“No matter your age, don’t give up on achieving your ideal body weight,” he says. “Also, don’t give up on quitting smoking. It’s not too late. Making changes even at an older age can have a huge impact on decreasing your risk of heart disease or stabilizing a condition you may already have.”
“I always tell my patients that the less you do, the less you will be able to do,” Kacere says. “The more active you are, the fewer problems you will have, and it really is as simple as that.”
But even after years of bad habits, it is not too late to make changes. Tulsan Craig Blackstock can attest to this.
Fourteen years ago, Blackstock’s son found him unconscious on the floor of a parking garage. Fortunately, his son had just completed his training to be a reserve deputy, during which he was certified in CPR. Blackstock’s son was able to save his life — something he does not take for granted.
“I know how lucky I was,” says Blackstock, now 71. “I feel like a got a second chance at life, so it was a wakeup call for me.”
Blackstock suffered from ventricular fibrillation, which according to the American Heart Association is the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance. The heart’s electrical activity becomes disordered, causing the lower chamber to quiver and renders the heart unable to pump any blood.
With the help of modern medicine and lifestyle changes, Blackstock, a patient of Kacere’s, has been problem free since that scary day 14 years ago.
“I feel great,” says Blackstock, who now only sees Kacere once a year. “Dr. Kacere has helped me become more conscious of what I eat and helped me get started on an exercise program.”
Blackstock rides his bike and lifts weights to keep himself healthy.
“However, I just ordered the big daddy of all exercise programs,” says Blackstock. “The P90X (an intense 90-day home fitness system). Dr. Kacere will be proud of me.”
Blackstock also mentioned the importance of finding the right doctor.
“Dr. Kacere takes the time to really explain things to me and makes me feel like I am the most important person in the world when I am meeting with him,” Blackstock says. “I know he really cares about me and how I am doing. I can’t think of a better trait to have in a doctor.”
Exercise programs for seniors:
LIFE Senior Services has two senior centers that offer several fitness programs at all levels:
Chair and standing fitness
Strengthen and tone
Dance classes (offered at the East Side Center)
Indoor walking track and fitness room (available at the Southminster Center)
For more information, call 918-664-9000 or visit www.LIFEseniorservices.org.
Tips for heart disease prevention:
Get enough exercise. This means at least 30 minutes of exercise almost every day of the week.
Quit smoking. If you do smoke, it’s time to quit.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting saturated fats, salt and foods containing cholesterol, like fatty meats. Reach for fish and lean poultry instead.
Watch your numbers. Get regular check-ups to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and make sure they’re under control with medication.
Reduce your alcohol intake. Excess alcohol consumption can worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease like blood pressure, arrhythmias and high cholesterol levels. Moderation is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women.
Minimize stress in your life. Stress can compound many heart disease risks that seniors already face, steering them toward an unhealthy lifestyle. Find healthy outlets and stress management techniques and lower your heart disease risk.
Watch your weight. Too many pounds can add up to increased heart disease risk. To help prevent heart disease, maintain a healthy body weight.
Source: American Heart Association