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Stroke Awareness: How to Recognize Stroke Signs and Lower Your Risk

As we age, we become more susceptible to certain illnesses and health events that can have a negative impact on our ability to age well. Like a heart attack, a stroke (sometimes called a brain attack) is a serious event that can cause long-term disabilities and health complications. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. 

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke happens when something changes how blood flows through the brain. Because blood carries oxygen, if its supply is cut off and brain cells don’t receive enough oxygen, they’ll eventually die. This event can cause individuals to have trouble speaking, thinking, or walking.

There are two major types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. The most common type, ischemic, is caused by a blood clot or narrowing of the blood vessel that leads to the brain. Blood clots can form within the blood vessels of the brain or neck, or move from one part of the body such as the heart or neck, and travel up to the brain. The second type of stroke, hemorrhagic, occurs when a broken blood vessel causes bleeding in the brain, which ultimately stops the flow of oxygen and other essential nutrients.  

What Are the Signs of a Stroke?

In the event of a stroke, getting help quickly can lessen brain damage and decrease the risk of long-term disabilities. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke will help you take action and 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 signs:

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 smile in a mirror. Often when a stroke occurs, one side of the face will be uneven or lopsided. 

Arm Weakness — A stroke will often affect just one side of the body. Usually, one arm will feel weak or numb. Being unable to raise both arms, or one arm drifting downward,  could be a sign of a 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 may be time to move on to the last step. 

Time to call 9-1-1. If you or a loved one experiences one or more of these symptoms, even if they go away, it’s time to call for help. 

In addition to F-A-S-T, several other indicators act as warning signs of a stroke. If you recognize any of the following symptoms, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

  • Loss of balance. A stroke can cause severe loss of balance and coordination, which can cause a person to stumble, feel dizzy, or have trouble walking or sitting without falling.
  • Weakness. Sudden and temporary loss of strength, especially in the face, arm, and leg, can signal the onset of a stroke. In addition, complete muscle failure can occur during a stroke and may cause the person to lose the ability to lift an arm or put weight on one leg.
  • Impaired vision. Many stroke victims report experiencing blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision before the stroke.
  • Lack of comprehension. A person experiencing a stroke will often have trouble understanding others in the days leading up to the stroke. Stroke victims might also have trouble contributing to a conversation or understanding commands.
  • Headache. One of the most common symptoms of a stroke is the onset of a sudden and severe headache. Many individuals report headaches so severe that they often cause nausea and lightheadedness.

Risks of Stroke in Older Adults

While anyone can have a stroke, certain risk factors increase the chances of experiencing one.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, it’s important to understand your stroke risk factors and what you can do to lower your chances. If you have any of the following, seriously consider talking with your healthcare provider: 

A previous stroke — If you’ve already had a stroke 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 your first stroke.

High blood pressureHigh blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke in older adults and can often go unrecognized. In addition, cholesterol can build up in the arteries leading to the brain, which can also contribute to your risk. 

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. 

Diabetes — This condition can cause sugars to build up in the blood and prevent oxygen from getting to various parts of the body, including the brain. 

Tobacco use and diet — Unhealthy lifestyles can contribute to the risk of stroke as you age. Cigarettes can damage the heart and blood vessels, and raise blood pressure, all of which can increase the risk of stroke. Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can contribute to stroke risk. 

Preventing Stroke in Older Adults

Making small and easy lifestyle 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 your stroke risk 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. In addition, a healthy diet should contain five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily. 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. 

Stroke Support at Maplewood Senior Living

Recovering from a stroke can be a long process. Our Maplewood Senior Living communities are designed to support you with rehabilitation teams and support groups. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings or scheduling a tour, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

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