Coffee Break – – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Coffee Break – – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Right, Before I Die

Photographer captures pictures and thoughts of people facing death.

Right, Before I Die
Photographer captures pictures and thoughts of people facing death.

Kim said that once she became ill, friends stopped coming by, as if they were afraid of catching her illness. “Most people are like that because they are scared, scared of I don’t know what.”

She was one of 20 people photographed and interviewed by Los Angeles artist Andrew George for his project, “Right, Before I Die,” about people nearing death. His work has been displayed at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, at Musea Brugge in Belgium and the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

George told California Healthline that he wanted to know his subjects’ perspective on their lives, their dreams and their deaths. In addition to asking them questions, he gave each a piece of paper to draw or write whatever they wanted.

Ediccia wanted to be remembered as someone who didn’t give up. Chuck said some of his favorite times were playing baseball with his brothers. Joe said he was the luckiest man in the world. Jack confessed that his true love wasn’t his wife, but rather a woman he’d met in Japan in the 1940s who had been sent to a relocation camp. Donald said he still loved his ex-wife, even though she had married another man.

Abel summed up his thoughts this way: “You have a one-way ticket. Don’t waste it!”

You can view more comments from the project’s participants at Right, Before I Die.

Tech 101 – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Tech 101 – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Smart Home Technology for Seniors

New systems can save you money and make your place more secure and safe.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Smart Home Technology for Seniors
New systems can save you money and make your place more secure and safe.

As technology enters every part of our lives, there’s one area that is now getting a lot of attention: our homes. With automatic lighting, video cameras and thermostats, among other smart systems, we can make our homes safer, more secure and more cost effective. We can use technology to do our bidding. From the comfort of your couch, you can turn on and off the television and lamps, raise or lower the blinds, and instruct the thermostat to cool down or heat up your home.

Recently the Hartford and the MIT AgeLab identified the top 10 home technologies for homeowners age 50 and older. Technology can make life easier for anyone, but a safer environment that can save money can especially benefit older adults.

1. Smart Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

The latest instruments do more than monitor your home for smoke and carbon monoxide. They can detect just about anything in the air: carbon dioxide and monoxide, temperature, humidity, dust, soot, pollen, air staleness, pollution and other particulates.

When you’re home, smart detectors alert you with an alarm or loud recorded voice, and when you’re away, they communicate through your smartphone app. One detector system will contact assistance (including the fire department) if you’re not home.

2. Wireless Doorbell Cameras

In the past, to see who was knocking at your front door, you looked through a pinhole opening in the door (or peeked from the curtains at the front window). Now windowless doorbell cameras, more commonly known as video doorbells, use installed cameras to show you, whether you’re in the backyard, in bed or at work (using your smartphone), who’s at your door.

You can even communicate with the visitor, telling the delivery person, for example, to leave the package on the front porch. Some video systems have motion sensors that activate the camera. One system takes videos of your front door, so if a package goes missing, you can peruse the videos for information. Another system will alert more than one person, so your children, for instance, know what’s going on.

Video doorbells are especially good for those who live alone or homeowners who travel a lot.

3. Keyless Entry

Instead of using a key to unlock your home, you punch your personal code into the lock box. Not only does this eliminate the need for keys, which can be lost, it provides access for others, such as your children who may need to check on you, friends who volunteered to water your plants, or services (such as cleaning) that come when you’re not home. You can also use a temporary code and then change it when necessary.

4. Automatic Lighting

If you don’t like coming home to darkness, or if you want to turn on the lights while you’re away, you can now adjust your lights using your smartphone, a preset timer, a key fob, a remote control or an exterior motion detector. This technology is available for both outdoor and indoor lights, and you can use it when at home or away.

5. Smart Water Shut-Off Valves

When you’re traveling, you may have nightmares about arriving home to burst pipes and a flooded house. However, smart shut-off valves will automatically turn off your water if they detect a burst pipe. Plus, you will receive an alert, via your smartphone, wherever you are.

More expensive technology goes even further. One system automatically turns off the valve to the water main when certain weather conditions are forecast, such as freezing temperatures.

6. Smart Home Security Systems

There’s no need to get up in the middle of the night if you hear a strange noise in your backyard. Smart home security systems use motion sensors to detect if someone is near your doors or windows, and then transmit this information to you through your smartphone. You can even monitor your home when you’re away. More complex systems include surveillance cameras, lights and sirens, and allow you to turn on the lights when motion is detected, unlock your doors when a smoke alarm goes off, and start a video recording when a sensor is triggered. You can oversee the system yourself or hire a professional agency to do it.

7. Smart Outlets/Plugs

You can use these plugs on any outlet to remotely turn on and off any appliance. This convenience can save energy costs and improve security by letting you turn on lamps, for example, to make it look like someone is home. Some smart plugs even let you monitor your power consumption in real time.

8. Smart Thermostats

In addition to programming your thermostat for ideal comfort throughout the day, you can remotely control it. If you’re on your way home and want to warm up the house, you can increase the temperature using your smartphone.

The high-end smart thermostats even learn your habits and temperature preferences and can set up the ideal home environment without you having to lift a finger. Some let you know how much money you’re saving on energy costs by regulating the temperature.

9. Water and/or Mold Sensors

These sensors can detect water leaks and, in some cases, small changes in moisture levels that could indicate mold—whether from your refrigerator, toilet or washing machine. Place battery-operated sensors around the appliances you want to monitor. They will alert you via your web browser, smartphone app, text, email or phone call when leaks occur.

10. Smart Window Blinds

While raising and lowering window blinds is not a difficult chore, doing so remotely can save energy costs and add to your home’s security. Smart blinds can permit more or less sun—and warmth–depending on the weather. And closed blinds can deter possible burglars who might assume the house is occupied, even when it’s not.

With so much smart home technology available, you can choose to try out a few at a time or you can install a whole safe-home system that integrates all the pieces.


New Research By the Hartford and the MIT AgeLab Reveals Top 10 Smart Home Technologies For Mature Homeowners,” Nov. 29, 2016, Hartford Newsroom.

The Best Smart Home Security Systems of 2017,” Feb. 15, 2017, PC Mag.

8 Best Video Doorbells,” April 2017, Wiki.ez.vid.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Lifestyle Trends – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Lifestyle Trends – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

What Happened to Mom?

Warning signs that your aging parents may need more help to stay home.

Warning signs that your aging parents may need more help to stay home.
By Hannah Draeger Ross

Time and obligations have a way of interfering with the best laid plans of family members. Trips to visit an aging parent or relative become more and more infrequent. Many of our parents or grandparents have relocated to states that offer climates more conducive to shoveling sand versus snow. Or adult children have moved to distant states for better jobs or opportunities.

Many of us have limited our travel planning for various reasons, including the difficulty of taking time off from work. Our daily responsibilities often take precedent to seeing aging relatives, and another year’s plans to visit slip away.

Finally, a visit is possible, and the door to their home is opened by a very frail parent.

“What happened to Mom?” is a question I hear quite frequently these days.

“I knew my mother needed a little help around the house, and we did hire an agency to come once in a while to assist with the housekeeping. But I had no idea she had changed so much,” I recently heard a daughter lament.

How do I know about these instances? I operate a senior service designed to offer resources and assistance to families. Many of my clients live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their parents.

An elderly person may sound great on the phone while hiding health issues. Your loved ones don’t want you to worry about them. They might also be nervous that you will suggest they move into a retirement home. The majority of senior clients I work with want to remain in their own residences.

Or they may be unaware that they need help. Over time, older adults can gradually lose some of their functioning. Their hearing gets worse, they’re more tired, they can’t remember how to turn on the shower or the stove. Slowly, they withdraw from some of life’s daily chores.

When you visit an aging parent, use your senses to evaluate whether your mom or dad needs additional care.

Warning Signs Your Parents Need Help

Watch. Do they dress appropriately for the weather or the season? Does your dad have on a soiled shirt? Is his appearance disheveled? Is he well-groomed? Do his teeth appear clean? Does your mom continue to wear make-up? Is the car dented and dinged? Is the house clean and free of clutter? Is mail all over the counters and tables?

Listen. Can they carry on a general conversation and understand what you are saying? Are they speaking too loudly? Is the television blasting in the background? Do they call you by your name? Do they engage in phone conversations with telemarketers?

Smell. Does the home have an unpleasant odor? Is there outdated or spoiled food in the refrigerator? Is the garbage can overflowing? Is the heat or air-conditioning completely off? Do you smell a litter box or other pet odors?

Touch. Do they look healthy? Do they feel cold to the touch? Is their skin supple and normal in color? Are there any bruises or skin tears? Have they lost weight? Have they gained excessive weight? Has their eyesight failed?

Observe. Are there many medications and pills around? Are there different doctors’ names on pill cases? Has their personality changed? Do you see a big supply of liquor? Are bills marked “past due” or unopened? Is there an abundance of letters from charities or contests, indicating they have been too susceptible to every appeal that comes their way?

Be proactive. If you sense a problem, take action immediately. Discuss the issues you find with your loved ones. Set up doctor appointments and determine what services are needed.

How to Help

Once you have noticed concerning changes in a loved one that may be putting them at risk physically or financially, please think about respectful and practical solutions to help them. Many elder citizens want to live life in their own way and resist changing residence. They would prefer to bring the help they need into their homes rather than move.

Put yourself in their place. Would you want to leave your own home to stay with your kids? Or would you prefer to make renovations to your place to accommodate your changing health and safety issues? Do you enjoy your neighbors and your neighborhood? Is your garden your pride and joy? Do you have a beloved pet that would not be welcomed into assisted living?

Bringing care into the home extends the time your parent can stay in the comfort of their own residence with their memories and their precious belongings around them. Your parents deserve to live their lives to the fullest. Helping them stay in their own home can often provide a less expensive alternative to special-assistance housing. Sometimes, a caregiver simply needs to come by for a few hours a day.

Of course, these solutions for enhancing at-home care are intended to address the natural stages of aging, not dementia. If you suspect that your parent’s behavior points to the cognitive decline associated with dementia then trust your gut. Before you embark on improving their lifestyle at home, where they could be at risk, get your parent to an appropriate doctor for cognitive testing and diagnosis.

How to Change the Home

My senior clients have commented about how much life has improved for them because of the addition of a ramp or bath designed for handicapped use (please make sure proper training is included). Renovating a home for special needs can also prove a wonderful alternative to geriatric housing facilities. We “baby proof” homes for safety, but rarely “senior proof” them on the opposite end of life.

Installing “nanny cams” and proper security when a senior is at risk due to cognitive issues is a smart idea. I have one client who installed this sort of security for her father, along with a phone app, so she can routinely check to make sure he is OK.

It also makes sense to have someone assist with cleaning and cooking to help ensure your parents eat properly in a hygienic home. One of my clients found a retired nurse to move in with her parents. Lucky her! Caregivers can also drive your parents to the doctor, out to lunch or to visit an old friend. Many of my clients have stayed in their homes until the very end because they took advantage of care and services from family members, caregivers and hospice.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

If you are not able to be your loved one’s primary caregiver, take the proper precautions so that you have peace of mind. For example, make sure the caregiver and any other important people know to call you if needed. Clearly display a list of emergency contacts such as your parents’ or relatives’ financial planners, lawyers and doctors. List the medications they take and their pharmacy’s phone number. When you visit your loved one, get the name and number of one of their close friends or neighbors so that you can check with them if needed.

Finally, stop beating yourself up and schedule time for at least one phone call every week. Mom and Dad already know you have other responsibilities. In the meantime, let’s hear it for this wonderful, stubborn generation of “Golden Agers” who still watch Jeopardy, play cards with friends, sign up for dance lessons and believe that 90 is the new 80!

– Hannah Draeger Ross, CSA

Hannah Draeger Ross, CSA, is the owner of Elderlinx Senior Services. She has been a geriatric homecare professional for over 15 years and resides in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Your Money – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Your Money – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Investing According to Your Values

An increasing number of funds align themselves with environmental, social and corporate governance ideals.

Investing According to Your Values


An increasing number of funds align themselves with environmental, social and corporate governance ideals.

For those who want to combine their social values with their financial investments, socially responsible investing (SRI) would seem to be the perfect choice. Funds that invest according to a certain set of principles—such as environmental—are becoming more popular. At the outset of 2016, U.S. assets that use SRI strategies grew to $8.72 trillion, an increase of 33 percent since 2014, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. Today SRI funds account for more than one out of every five dollars under professional financial management in the United States.

Mutual funds that invest in a range of SRI strategies are increasing: More than 45 new funds opened over the past five years. All told, 181 U.S. mutual funds and 39 exchange-traded funds practice SRI in one form or another, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, including industry heavyweights BlackRock and Goldman Sachs Group. Much of that investment money comes from institutions, primarily pension funds, foundations and college endowments.

That number is expected to grow as millennials start to invest more as they get older. Several surveys have found that Americans born between the early 1980s and early 2000s are more committed than previous generations to socially responsible issues, particularly sustainability, when they invest, even if it means they don’t make as much profit.

Defining SRIs

SRI funds cover a wide range of issues, and while some funds emphasize specific areas—such as the workplace—others try to cover all the bases. The approach is often two-pronged: Avoid companies that sell items that can be considered harmful, such as firearms, alcohol, nuclear power, pornography or military weapons, while focusing on companies that promote positive actions. To determine if a company is socially responsible, investors use three main criteria—termed ESG.

1. Environment. Factors that focus on the natural environment can include reducing emissions or investing in sustainable or clean energy sources, while avoiding industries such as coal mining. Environmental concerns are the biggest reason that investors buy SRI funds, according to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, with climate change and clean technology topping the list.

2. Social. How a company treats its employees, customers and suppliers can be a barometer of its commitment to social responsibility. This category includes equal employment and diversity, labor and human rights, and the exclusion of companies doing business in countries with repressive regimes or that sponsor terrorism.

3. Governance. When evaluating a company, some investors look at its leadership and diversity (are women and minorities in upper management?), how much it pays top executives, the regularity of audits, its internal controls and shareholder rights.

Beyond ESG is another popular category of SRI: faith-based funds for those who want their investments to match the principles of their Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith.

For example, Catholics might avoid firms that support abortion, contraceptives or embryonic stem cell research. Muslims generally avoid “sin stocks”—alcohol, pornography or gambling.

Performance of SRI Funds

Whether SRI funds are as good an investment as non-SRI funds is debatable, with conflicting figures as to their worth. Certainly, some SRI funds outperform the market, while others lag behind.

Financial expert Jane Bryant Quinn, writing for AARP Bulletin, says, “Multiple studies show that indexes of ‘responsible’ stocks perform at least as well as the total market over the long term.”

A 2014 research study by the firm CDP found that corporations that actively manage and plan for climate change achieve an 18 percent higher return on investment than companies that ignore the issue, and 67 percent higher than companies who refuse to disclose their emissions, according to Forbes.

Where to Find More Information

Several websites and companies provide information on SRI funds.

Morningstar, an investment research company, tracks 207 stock and bond mutual SRI funds and has rated some 20,000 stock and bond mutual funds based on ESG factors, according to Jane Bryant Quinn, writing in the AARP Bulletin.

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) calls itself the “largest personal finance site devoted to socially responsible investing” and features over 10,000 pages of information on SRI mutual funds, community investments, corporate research, shareowner actions and daily social investment news.

Sustainalytics believes it’s “imperative for the global economy to become more just and sustainable.” The company is celebrating its 25th year in business supporting investors who incorporate ESG and corporate governance insights into their investment processes.

The Wall Street Journal thought the topic was controversial enough to warrant publishing two opposing viewpoints. The pro-SRI columnist pointed to several studies that backed his contention that SRI funds were good investments. Firms with greater shareholder rights outperformed the market, and companies with “high eco-efficiency—that generate the least waste relative to the value of their products and services”—also outperformed. The returns of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America—reflecting that employees were well treated—beat their peers by 2.3 to 3.8 percentage points a year from 1984 to 2011.

The opposing view listed reasons why an SRI was unlikely to produce superior returns. For example: the lack of consensus on how to define corporate social responsibility or how to construct a portfolio based on the concept, the “limited and often flawed” data used to assess a company’s social responsibility, and the fact that a company’s current record or reputation can be a poor predictor of its future behavior.

But many SRI advocates say that a better financial performance than average is not the point. They would rather get a smaller return in exchange for following their principles.

A Wide Range of Funds

SRI funds come in all shapes and sizes. One of the largest and most successful SRI funds is the Parnassus Core Equity Fund, which beat the S&P 500 over a 15-year period, according to the Motley Fool. The fund won’t invest in companies that generate a significant portion of their revenue from alcohol, tobacco, weapons, nuclear power, gambling or fossil fuels, or from operations in the country of Sudan.

Critics often take issue with SRI funds’ subjective judgment. For example, the Parnassus fund doesn’t invest in Coca-Cola stock because it sees its product as unhealthy, or Wal-Mart because the retail giant has drawn business away from the downtown core of many towns.

Parnassus also rejects Microsoft because of its “competitive dynamics.” But the technology company is the second-largest holding in Vanguard’s FTSE Social Index Fund, the biggest SRI index fund and one that includes adult entertainment stocks, something many other SRI funds avoid.

Going in a different direction is the SDPR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF, which invests in companies with a high ratio of women to men at the executive level, giving extra weight to gender diversity on boards of directors. Some studies have shown that companies led by women have done better than those helmed by men.

One SRI bond fund, the TIAA-CREF Social Choice Bond Fund, has beat the bond index by an average of 1.2 percentage points per year, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. While 70 percent of its investments go to U.S. firms that have the best ESG ratings, 30 percent is for “impact investing.” An example of a measurable and positive impact is the fund’s investment in Topaz Solar Farm in California, which powers 160,000 homes. In terms of reducing carbon dioxide, this has the same effect as taking 73,000 cars off the road, according to one of the fund’s managers.

An example of a faith-based fund is Eventide Gilead, a Christian-based fund that promotes “biblically responsible investing.” This fund will not invest in alcohol, tobacco, pornography and companies that allow abortion. Apparently, upholding your religious principles pays off. Since Gilead’s launch in 2008, the fund has returned 14.9 percent annualized, which beats the S&P 500 by an average of 6.0 percentage points per year.


Is Socially Responsible Investing on the Rise?,” December 2016, AARP Bulletin.

Socially Responsible Investment – SRI,” Investopedia.

Does Socially Responsible Investing Make Financial Sense?,” Feb. 28, 2016, Wall Street Journal,.

What Is Socially Responsible Investing?,” Sep 18, 2016, Motley Fool.

7 Great Socially Responsible Mutual Funds,” March 2016, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

The Changing Face of Socially Responsible Investing,” April 26, 2016, Forbes.

Learn,” Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

How to Control Your Cholesterol – – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

How to Control Your Cholesterol – – Alzheimer’s – Optimum Senior Care – Chicago In Home Caregivers

Diet and weight loss should be your first strategy before taking statin drugs.

How to Control Your Cholesterol
Diet and weight loss should be your first strategy before taking statin drugs.

High levels of the wrong cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the primary cause of death for both men and women in this country. High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. While many people with high cholesterol levels are treated with drugs, mainly statins, medical experts say the first line of defense against high cholesterol should be changes in lifestyle—diet and exercise. Being overweight and eating certain foods can raise cholesterol levels.

What Is Cholesterol?

We need cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body, to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help us digest foods. Although our body makes all the cholesterol it needs, certain foods contain cholesterol and can raise our levels.

Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins: both low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). It’s important to have healthy levels of both types. Too high a level of LDL, often called “bad” cholesterol, leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. On the other hand, HDL cholesterol, referred to as “good” cholesterol, carries cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver, which removes it from your body.

The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the greater your chance of getting coronary heart disease, while the more HDL cholesterol in your blood, the lower your heart disease risk.

New Research Focuses on Gene

The first medication in a new class of drugs that “silences” genes, inclisiran has been shown to halve cholesterol levels in patients at risk of cardiovascular disease, reported Science Daily.

Researchers from Imperial College London conducted the largest trial yet to test the safety and effectiveness of a technique, known as RNA interference (RNAi) therapy, which essentially switches off one of the genes responsible for elevated cholesterol.

The treatment is given twice a year, with or without statins, depending on the patient’s needs. Eventually, inclisiran could help to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke related to high cholesterol. However, because this is an early-phase study, and one of the first clinical studies on this type of drug, the study’s authors warn that more research is needed before the therapy can be marketed.

Source: “New ‘gene silencer’ drug reduce cholesterol by over 50 percent,” March 17, 2017,Science Daily.

A Good Diet

A recent study of the Tsimane indigenous people in the Bolivian Amazon, a forager-horticulturalist population, revealed that they have the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) of any population yet studied. An 80-year-old Tsimane had the same vascular age as a 50-year-old American. Tsimane diets are low in saturated fats and high in non-processed fiber-rich carbohydrates, and include wild game and fish. These indigenous people don’t smoke and are active for most of the day.

Our sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets work the opposite way and contribute to coronary heart disease. To keep our LDL levels low, medical experts first recommend a healthy diet:

The right fats. Fats are not necessarily bad for you; it just depends on which kind. Unsaturated fats are good for your heart and can help lower LDL. They include oils that come from plants such as canola, safflower, sunflower, olive, grapeseed and peanut. Other healthy fats include seeds, nuts, avocados and fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring and mackerel.

Saturated fats, which come mainly from animal products, raise your LDL level more than anything else in your diet and should be kept to a minimum—small portions every couple of weeks or so. These include meat and dairy products—egg yolks, red meat, shrimp, lobster, high-fat cheeses, butter and organ meats. As a rule, you should get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Choose leaner cuts of meat and low-fat dairy for healthier options.

The unhealthiest option is trans fats, which increase LDL and also lower HDL. This can be a fatal combination because it increases the risk of heart attacks. Trans fats are added to food products, such as fried foods, cookies and crackers, to make them last longer. Publicity about trans fats has pushed many food manufacturers to phase them out, but you should read the labels on food products to make sure they don’t contain trans fat.

More fiber. Soluble fiber, such as that found in old-fashioned oatmeal (not the quick-cooking kind), apples, prunes, beans and brown or wild rice, keeps your body from absorbing cholesterol and lowers blood cholesterol levels. Research shows that people who ate 5 to 10 more grams of fiber each day decreased their LDL.

Plant sterols and stanols. These substances are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and manufacturers have started adding them to processed foods, including margarine spreads, orange juice, cereals and granola bars. Because stanols and sterols are similar in structure to cholesterol, they help limit the amount of cholesterol your body can absorb.

Lose Weight

Being overweight tends to raise your LDL level, lower your HDL level and increase your total cholesterol level. Even losing just 10 pounds can reduce your LDL by up to 8 percent. Combining exercise with a healthier diet can get rid of the pounds and lower your LDL cholesterol. Medical experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise a day and choosing something you enjoy, whether it’s taking a walk, riding a bike or swimming.

Alcohol and Smoking

While research has shown that smoking cigarettes lowers HDL, moderate drinking of alcohol (particularly red wine) increases HDL. Of course, there are other heart-related reasons to quit smoking. This habit harms the lining of the blood vessels and increases the risk of blood clots, which contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). And too much drinking can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. For women, drinking moderately means one daily drink; for men 65 and younger, two drinks, and over 65, one drink. Because of the risks associated with alcohol, the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking alcohol specifically to lower cholesterol.

The Next Step: Statins

Sometimes a good diet and losing weight are not enough to achieve healthy cholesterol levels. For example, an inherited condition can cause high LDL cholesterol. For those with this gene or for others who can’t reach the optimum cholesterol levels, taking a medication is the next line of defense. Statins, which inhibit the enzyme involved in the body’s ability to produce LDL cholesterol, have proved to be the most effective cholesterol-reducing medication. In addition to lowering LDL, they also decrease triglycerides, which are another type of blood fat, and mildly raise HDL cholesterol.

There has been some concern over the years about statins side effects, including muscle pain, hemorrhagic stroke and myopathy. However, recent studies concluded that these issues affect only a small number of statin users and that statins’ benefits outweigh its harms.

In fact, statins have been recommended as a preventive tool for certain populations. The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommends that adults age 40 to 75 who don’t have a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) but have one or more CVD risk factors (such as diabetes or hypertension) and have a calculated 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event of 10 percent or greater should use a low- to moderate-dose statin to prevent CVD.

Your risk is determined by comparing your information to a community-based population, which includes race, gender, age, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, use of blood pressure medication, diabetes status and smoking status.

For adults 76 years and older without a history of heart attack or stroke, the U.S. task force concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to determine whether the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of taking statins.