Getting blood tests is not most people's idea of a fun afternoon out. Yet for many seniors and their caregivers, these tests are routine. Such tests can impart lifesaving information. From revealing high blood sugar or low iron, high blood pressure or low immune function--these tests and others can reveal important facts about the health of seniors in one's care, and doctors can help caregivers figure out ways to support healthy habits and shed unhealthy ones.

One vital test for many seniors is one which tests overall cholesterol, but getting accurate readings can take some work. Below are a few steps to ensure accurate readings each time.

Cramming Will Not Work

If a senior has had previously less-than-ideal cholesterol levels and needs improvement, drastic measures right before testing will not make much of a difference, says Consumer Reports. Much like cramming the night before (or the morning of) an exam for school, cramming healthy living in right before a blood test can actually make matters worse, as will be discussed in the next section. Besides following the directions of a doctor or lab beforehand (also discussed in this article), it is best to keep normal routines the days before a blood test. Trying to skew results can wind up hurting doctors' recommendation, as they may prescribe too much or too little medication or consider a senior healthy enough to complete an activity for which the person truly does not have the strength.

Avoid Strenuous Exercise

For twelve to twenty-four hours before the test, seniors should avoid strenuous exercise, as that can make cholesterol levels look higher than they truly are. Although exercise is a good part of healthy living in general, the body has to compensate, and one of the ways it does is to raise HDL cholesterol, which can make blood tests appear better than they are on a normal day. Doctors need accurate results to make medication prescriptions, suggest exercise regimens, and make changes to a diet.

Follow Directions

Most doctors and testing centers will have specific instructions for what to do in the days or hours before the test in order to get the most accurate results. Frequently, this means "fasting"--results taken when a senior has not eaten or had anything to drink for nine to twelve hours before the test, especially if he or she is being tested for "bad" or LDL cholesterol. The best thing caregivers or family members can do for a senior is to encourage him or her to follow these directions, as eating or drinking (as well as taking/not taking medications) can severely impact test results and make doctor's recommendations less than informed. Although there can be pressure to make results look as "good" or as healthy as possible, it is better to have all the facts to work with than for doctors to make decisions based on "bad" or poorly retrieved data.

If there is any confusion about the requirements before a lab test, a talk with the doctor or laboratory staff should make things clear.

Get Tests Regularly, and Get the Right Tests

If a senior has a family history or a personal health history of heart or circulation problems, it is best for that person to be tested regularly for all manner of cholesterol--good and bad. Good cholesterol helps maintain bad cholesterol at healthy levels, so it is important to see the levels of both--and they can both be found with a normal fasting test. Having all of the numbers in one place, in addition to other regular blood testing, helps both specialists and general physicians see how effective whatever medication or nutrition regimen a senior currently uses is.

A regular cholesterol test, which might be done several times a year, yearly, or even every five years, can help doctors see what changes, if any, need to be made to diet, medication, and exercise in order to maintain cardiovascular health. Changes in diet and exercise should also be coupled with checkups. Many seniors lose their appetites and may not eat enough healthy foods like fruit and vegetables; that may also hurt their cholesterol numbers. Doctors should be kept abreast of these kinds of changes so that they can make informed changes to their recommendations.

Sources

American Heart Association. How To Get Your Cholesterol Tested. Heart.org, March 28, 2016. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/SymptomsDiagnosisMonitoringofHighCholesterol/How-To-Get-Your-Cholesterol-Tested_UCM_305595_Article.jsp#.V3GHGLgrLIV. Retrieved June 27, 2016.

Consumer Reports. (March 8, 2015). How to get accurate cholesterol and blood glucose test results. ConsumerReports.org. Available at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/03/how-to-get-accurate-cholesterol-test-results/index.htm. Retrieved June 27, 2016.

Harvard Health Publications. Which cholesterol test should you get? Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School, November 2004. Available at http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/which_cholesterol_test_should_you_get. Retrieved June 27, 2016.

Hetzler, Lynn. (August 16, 2013). What Not to Eat Before Cholesterol Check. LiveStrong.com. Available at http://www.livestrong.com/article/326114-what-not-to-eat-before-cholesterol-check/. Retrieved June 27, 2016.

Mayo Clinic. High cholesterol: Diagnosis. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/diagnosis-treatment/diagnosis/dxc-20181913. Retrieved June 27, 2016.

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