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Daily Aspirin Therapy: Is It Right for Your Aging Loved One?

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Daily aspirin therapy is heralded as a lifesaving treatment for many people. But while it’s a smart course for some, it’s not advisable for everyone. Wondering whether or not a daily aspirin is right for your aging loved one? Here’s a closer look at what the Mayo Clinic has to say about daily aspirin therapy.

The Upsides of Aspirin

For people with narrow arteries due to atherosclerosis, the risk of a blood clot forming, blocking the artery, and preventing blood flow to the heart can lead to heart attacks. In stopping blood from clotting, aspirin can play a role in preventing heart attacks and strokes. 

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends daily aspirin therapy if you're age 50 to 59, you're not at increased bleeding risk, and you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke of ten percent or greater over the next ten years. If you're age 60 to 69, you aren't at increased bleeding risk, and you have a high risk of heart attack or stroke of ten percent or greater over the next ten years, talk to your doctor about daily aspirin therapy,” advises the Mayo Clinic

Research also indicates that aspirin may also help reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancers, according to the Harvard Health Letter. Says Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Harvard affiliated Dana Farber Cancer Institute, "I would consider aspirin for patients who have an elevated risk of colon cancer, based on risk factors including family history, but not if they also have an increased risk of gastrointestinal tract bleeding. The best dose has not been established, but I would suggest at least 81 mg daily. However, 325 mg daily may be more effective.

Why Aspirin Theory Is Not for Everyone

All of which begs the question: If aspirin therapy has such beneficial preventative potential, why isn’t it recommended for everyone? Explains cardiologist Dr. Stephen Kopecky, “The reason aspirin therapy is not recommended for people younger than 50 or older than 69 is that there is not enough data to prove it helps in those age groups. Plus, for people over age 69, aspirin significantly increases the risk of serious bleeds.” 

Medical doctor interviewing patient.

In addition to increasing the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, side effects and complications of taking aspirin also include increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke as well as allergic reaction. 

In fact, due to the lack of data, there is also disagreement among experts regarding when the upsides of aspirin therapy outweigh the downsides. For example, the FDA only recommends aspirin therapy for people who’ve already had heart attacks, stroke, or another heart condition. 

Explains the Mayo Clinic, “Guidelines are varied between organizations, but they're evolving as more research is done. The benefits of daily aspirin therapy don't outweigh the risk of bleeding in people with a low risk of heart attacks. The higher your risk of heart attack, the more likely it is that the benefits of daily aspirin outweigh the risk of bleeding.”

The bottom line? While in some instances the lifesaving benefits of daily aspirin therapy are very clear, in other cases it’s not as clear-cut. Talking with your aging loved one’s doctor can yield helpful insights into daily aspirin therapy, as well as the best dose to take, if it is recommended. 

Additionally, it’s important to know that if your aging loved one is taking aspirin, this might lead to excessive bleeding during surgery so make sure to tell the dentist or surgeon before any dental or surgical procedure. 

If your aging loved one is already taking an anticoagulant, meanwhile, daily aspirin therapy can exacerbate the effects and lead to the risk of major bleeding complications. 

Stopping Aspirin Theory

In response to evolving wisdom about daily aspirin therapy, you may be wondering whether it’s time to stop your aging loved one’s regiment. However, it’s not as simple as taking one fewer pill a day. Why not? Because stopping daily aspirin therapy can lead to a “rebound effect” which actually increases the risk of heart attack by triggering a blood clot. Therefore, be sure to talk to your aging loved one’s healthcare team before making any changes. 

One last thing to keep in mind? If you think you’re aging loved one is having a heart attack, your first response should always be to call 911. While the operator may advise you to give your aging loved one an aspirin, it won’t save someone’s life on its own. 

mmLearn.org offers an extensive library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care, including living with heart failure. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more online training for caregivers, access our free online caregiver video library today.