Spring has finally sprung! With May almost upon us, we might be thinking about what flowers we would like to plant in our gardens; our spring-cleaning plans or something more exciting like our travel plans. I would like to bring something else to our attention that is not an easy subject. May is Stroke Awareness Month. I would much rather discuss fun things like gardening or travel. However, it is an important subject and with the right information and knowledge, it could quite possibly help you or your loved one keep doing some of those fun things for years to come.

What is a Stroke?

Strokes involve the interruption of blood supply to an area of the brain, whether it be blocked or leaking blood vessels, resulting in a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. The two main types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic is the most common. It is caused by a blood clot or narrowing of a blood vessel leading to the brain. This in turn keeps blood as well as oxygen from reaching parts of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is much less common. It occurs when a blood vessel that is carrying blood to part of the brain breaks or bursts. It only takes a few seconds or minutes, after blood flow is interrupted, to kill millions of brain cells.

Stroke Statistics

Unfortunately, strokes are incredibly prevalent. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. alone, every 40 seconds, someone suffers a stroke. Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke. Older adults are at a high risk. Almost 75% of the strokes that do occur happen to those over the age of 65. Stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability. It reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and older. The good news, after all these grim statistics, is that 80% of strokes are preventable.

Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled

Having high blood pressure can put you or your loved one at a much higher risk for a stroke. It can be prevented or controlled by healthy eating, such as following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. There are some very good tasting DASH diet recipes now online. Getting enough physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can also positively impact blood pressure. Check out the article: 8 Nutritional Guidelines for Healthy Aging and 4 Types of Exercise to Promote Healthy Aging. If you or your loved one are currently struggling with high blood pressure, it is important to address this promptly with your primary care doctor. Depending on the situation, medication may also be advised.

Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol use also raises your blood pressure and puts you at a much greater risk for a stroke. Quitting smoking or alcohol use, is no small feat. For chances of greater success, you absolutely need to be alongside others who are also trying to quit. Check out support groups in your area and they too will have additional resources.

High levels of cholesterol can put you at a greater risk for stroke. High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know is to get you or your loved one’s cholesterol level checked. To manage cholesterol it can include medication, as well as diet that contains healthy fats and physical activity.

Diabetes is a well-established risk factor for strokes, because it can cause changes to the blood vessels in various areas of the body and consequently it can lead to a stroke if cerebral vessels are affected. Therefore, it is important to keep your blood sugar levels managed with the help of your physician.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

The National Stroke Association suggests following the acronym F.A.S.T. if you are concerned that either yourself or your loved one may be having a stroke.

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side droop or is numb?
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or difficult to understand?
  • Time – If you observe any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, it is time to call 911 immediately.

By learning the F.A.S.T. warning signs, you might just save your loved one from having significant disability from a stroke.

Other Symptoms of a Stroke

  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause and a different feeling than headaches you may have had in the past
  • Double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Changes in sense of touch
  • Running a temperature
  • Pain or sensations of pressure
  • Numbness in a specific part of the body
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting

This information is not for us to live in fear, but to prepare us. If we do find our loved ones having some of these symptoms, we will be able to recognize it and act quickly. We always hear the idiom “Time is of the Essence” and for strokes it really is true. Immediate treatment can greatly minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and possibly even prevent death.

Denver Senior Care thinks strokes are such a vital topic that we decided to continue this discussion for the next few weeks. Strokes can have a devastating impact not only on the life of the individual experiencing the stroke, but also on the family. Tune in as we discuss treatment options; some misconceptions about strokes and steps to take to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your loved one.