Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability in the US. While stroke is a serious issue that threatens and affects millions of people, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable. The American Stroke Association recognizes May as American Stroke Month, and works to raise awareness and reduce the incidence of stroke. Amada Senior Care recognizes the threat that stroke poses to seniors and their loved ones.
While stroke can be caused by a variety of factors, aging puts you at a higher risk year by year. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 75 percent of all strokes occur in those over 65, and your risk of stroke more than doubles each decade between age 55 and 85.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke can be classified as a “brain attack,” where blood flow to the brain is stopped due to a blockage or a clot. The brain cells in the area begin to die due to a lack of oxygen or damage from sudden bleeding. Those that don’t immediately die remain at risk, but can be saved if treated in time.
The majority of strokes are ischemic, or caused by a blood clot that blocks the vessel from supplying blood to the brain. Ischemic strokes are the result of a blood clot within a blood vessel in the brain or neck (thrombosis), the movement of a clot from another part of the body (embolism), or the narrowing of an artery due to fatty deposits lining the blood vessel walls (stenosis). The second type of stroke is hemorrhagic, in which a blood vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain. This type is caused by weak or thin spots on artery walls that can rupture, or by fatty deposits that cause the artery walls to break.
How can You Prevent a Stroke?
The National Stroke Association recommends identifying the risk factors of stroke, working to reduce those risks, and learning to recognize the signs of a stroke and how to respond.
Some risk factors are uncontrollable, such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, family history, previous stroke, and certain uncontrollable medical conditions.
Certain medical conditions that seniors are prone to can increase the chance of a stroke. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, circulation problems, and carotid artery disease can all be controlled with medication and special diets. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of irregular heartbeat that often causes blood to collect and clot and travel to the brain, causing stroke. AFib affects more than 2 million people in the US.
Some medical risk factors are caused by things like family history, but many are due to lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors are controllable, meaning seniors can choose whether to engage in them or not. Things like diet and exercise directly affect medical risk factors, either improving or worsening them. A healthy diet can help you ward off chronic diseases that make you more prone to stroke – extra weight can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The CDC recommends a diet that includes high amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low amounts of saturated fat and sodium to reduce the risk of stroke. Physical activity will also help seniors maintain their weight and manage chronic disease. Studies show that those who exercise five or more times per week reduce their risk of stroke. Smoking increases blood clot formation, thickens the blood, and increases plaque – all of this doubles your risk of stroke. Excessive alcohol consumption raises your blood pressure, which also increases your risk.
Learn the Warning Signs
When a stroke occurs, every moment is crucial. A matter of minutes can be the difference between lifelong damage or a full recovery. That’s why it’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms. The Stroke Association created an acronym that is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke – F.A.S.T.
Face drooping – Is one side of the face drooping or numb? If the person smiles, is it uneven?
Arm weakness – Is one arm numb or weak? If asked to raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
Speech difficulty – Is the person’s speech slurred, or are they unable to speak or hard to understand? Can they repeat a simple sentence correctly?
Time to call 9-1-1 – If any of the above symptoms are present, call 9-1-1 immediately and get the person to the hospital. Be sure to note the time that symptoms first appeared.
There are other symptoms beyond those listed above that may mean a stroke has occurred, such as:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, leg, especially along one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing (one or both eyes)
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache without cause
Knowing the risk factors and warning signs of a stroke can help seniors and their loved ones work to prevent it through lifestyle factors, and in the event of a stroke, get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.
“Recognizing and Preventing Strokes in Seniors,” Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.