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Recognizing Signs of Stroke in Older Adults

May is National Stroke Awareness Month and we want to make sure our families and their loved ones are aware of the signs of a stroke and are prepared to act quickly.

According to the National Institute of Aging, strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and cause more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, which prevents brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. When this happens, brain cells can die within minutes. Unfortunately, aging disproportionally increases the risk of stroke. The risk for stroke doubles every 10 years after the age of 55, with nearly three-quarters of all strokes occurring in those over 65. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke can help you identify one in yourself and others, and allow you to act quickly if it occurs.

Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
Getting help quickly in the event of a stroke can lessen brain damage and decrease the risk of stroke-related long-term disabilities. Knowing the signs of a stroke will help you take quick action and may even save a life. Stroke patients have greater potential for recovery when the signs of stroke are recognized within the first three hours of occurring. If you think you or someone else might be having a stroke, remember to act F-A-S-T and look for the following warning signs of a stroke:

Face – Does one side of the face droop? If you think you might be having a stroke, or are noticing symptoms in someone else, ask them to smile or look at your own. Often when a stroke occurs, one side of the face will be uneven or lopsided.

Arm Weakness – Stroke will often affect just one side of the body. Usually, one arm will feel weak or numb. If you or another person is unable to raise both arms, or if one arm drifts downward, it could be a sign of stroke.

Speech – Is speech slurred? If you can’t understand what the person is saying or if you’re having a difficult time speaking, it’s time to move on to the last step. Hurry, every minute counts!

Time – to call 9-1-1. If you or another person experiences one or more of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, it’s time to call for help.

Here are some additional signs of stroke common in both men and women. If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, don’t wait to call 9-1-1.

• Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Risks of Stroke in Older Adults
While anyone can have a stroke, certain risk factors increase the chances of experiencing a stroke. For example, those who have a history of stroke in their families or have genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease have a higher risk of developing a stroke than those who don’t. To protect yourself and your loved ones, it’s important to understand the risk factors and what you can do to lower the chances of stroke.

According to the Mayo Clinic, certain medical conditions can increase your risk of stroke. If you have any of the following, consider talking with your healthcare provider:

Previous stroke – If you’ve already had a stroke, or a transient ischemic attack, the chances of having another stroke are much higher. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the risk of experiencing a second stroke is highest within the first two days, but you remain vulnerable for up to one year after the first stroke.

High blood pressure – High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke in older adults and can often go unrecognized. Cholesterol can build up in the arteries leading to the brain, which can also contribute to the risk of stroke. Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet can help lower your risk of stroke. Those with diabetes are also at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and should consult with their doctor.

Heart disease – Common heart conditions found in older adults, such as coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation, can also increase the risk of stroke by blocking the oxygen flow to the brain and causing blood clots.

Preventing Stroke in Older Adults
Your lifestyle choices can also impact your risk of developing a stroke. Some habits like eating an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and obesity, and abusing alcohol and tobacco can dramatically increase the risk of having a stroke. However, making small and easy changes that can be implemented each day can help prevent a stroke from occurring. According to the Mayo Clinic, these stroke prevention strategies can help reduce the risk of stroke and help you live a healthier life:

● Control high blood pressure. One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stroke risk is to manage your blood pressure. This can be done by eating a balanced diet and using medications as prescribed by a healthcare provider.
● Exercise and diet. Eating foods low in cholesterol and fat, especially saturated and trans fats, can help reduce build-up in your arteries. Also, a healthy diet should contain five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Exercising regularly can help lower your blood pressure, increase levels of good cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart, all of which can help reduce your risk of stroke.
● Treat sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, which causes you to stop breathing for short periods during sleep, can increase your risk of stroke. If you experience symptoms of this disorder, it’s important to consult your doctor.

What Happens After a Stroke?
If a stroke does occur, stroke rehabilitation is designed to help you regain independence and improve your quality of life. While stroke complications vary from person to person, many rehabilitation plans include the following activities:

Physical activities
Stroke rehabilitation can take place just several days after the stroke occurs. The sooner rehabilitation begins, the more likely you are to regain abilities and skills. Some physical activities like motor-skill exercises and mobility training will help you improve muscle strength to help with walking and swallowing. Some mobility aids such as walkers, canes, or wheelchairs can be used to assist in recovery.

Technology-assisted activities
As technology continues to advance, especially within stroke rehabilitation practices, new technology is often used in therapy. Functional electrical stimulation, designed to help stimulate weakened muscles, and wireless technology, used to monitor post-stroke activity, can also be used during stroke rehabilitation.

Cognitive activities
Occupational therapy and speech therapy can help with stroke-related memory loss, speech processing, problem-solving and social skills. Speech therapy is often a part of the rehabilitation process, designed to help you regain lost abilities in speaking, listening, writing, and comprehension. Psychological evaluation and treatment, including counseling, can also be helpful for those adjusting to life after a stroke.

Stroke Support at Maplewood Senior Living
Recovering from a stroke can be a long process. Our Maplewood Senior Living communities are designed to support those who have experienced a stroke in a variety of ways. Our rehabilitation teams and support groups are there to assist those who need it every step of the way. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings or want to schedule a tour, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

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Westport, CT 06880

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