While seniors are unfortunately at risk for a number of different ailments, especially as they age, one of the most challenging and difficult health issues that seniors today face are strokes. A stroke can come seemingly out of nowhere, cause permanent brain damage and even death in the blink of an eye.
Stroke is actually the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and seniors are at the highest risk of suffering from this life-threatening event. Strokes are usually caused by blood clots and when they happen, the brain is deprived of the blood flow and oxygen that it needs. When there isn't early medical intervention, this lack of blood and oxygen can actually kill cells in the brain. Depending on what cells are impacted, a stroke can impact a person’s cognitive function, speech or basic motor skills.
It can be difficult to prevent a stroke, but for senior caregivers, understanding what a stroke is and when it is happening is the best tool possible in preventing a stroke from inflicting permanent damage on the patient. Treating a stroke right away is the best line of defense, but even after a stroke has occurred, stroke victims and their families need to be prepared for a long road back to recovery.
Signs of Stroke
While strokes are increasingly common in seniors, they can be difficult to spot at first. This is why it is so important that senior caregivers and their loved ones know the signs of a stroke and are able to spot these signs and symptoms right when they occur.
One of the scariest things about strokes is that they can be very difficult to spot and the warning signs typically don't occur until the stroke is actually happening.
The most popular way to notice a stroke is to remember the acronym FAST.
Facial Weakness: When an individual has droopiness in their facial muscles or partial paralysis in their face, it can be a sign of the beginning of a stroke. Typically, this only occurs on one side of the face.
Arms: If an individual is not able to raise both arms and keep them up at the same level, this can be a potential symptom of stroke.
Speech: When an individual in unable to pronounce words or if they have slurred speech, it can indicate the beginning stages of a stroke.
Time: Time is the number one thing to remember when it comes to noticing the symptoms of a stroke. A stroke is an emergency. A fast reaction to signs and symptoms can be the difference between a full recovery and permanent damage.
Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation
The number one factor that impacts a person's stroke survival rate is how quickly they can get medical attention. The National Stroke Association states that 85% of stroke victims actually survive their stroke, and of the survivors, 75% have some negative side effects from their stroke that will require rehabilitation and skilled care.
Prompt medical attention can also minimize the damage caused by a stroke and lead to a quicker road towards recovery. This journey towards recovery actually begins almost immediately after the stroke patient has stabilized and medical experts will get to work right away helping victims move their muscles and limbs and regain any lost speech.
Depending on where the stroke took place, seniors may be able to move fine, but be unable to talk. Other seniors suffer no cognitive damage and are able to communicate clearly, but find that they can't move much of their body. It all depends on what side of the brain their stroke occurred in.
With right side brain strokes, seniors often deal with left side paralysis, issues with vision, changes in behavior and memory loss. When a stroke takes place on the left side of the body, it can lead to right side paralysis, issue with speech and language, memory loss and it can cause them to become more fearful.
No matter how much damage has been done, it is important to remember that rehabilitation can take a long time when it comes to something as serious as a stroke. This rehabilitation can range from a few weeks to several years.
Typically, rehabilitation will include one or all of the following therapies:
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist will work with stroke patients to help them re-build their muscular strength and range of motion. Physical therapists will use exercise to improve use in the impacted limbs.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists are similar to physical therapists but they will focus more on helping stroke victims learn to function in their daily life when they return home or to work.
- Technology-assisted therapy: These therapies use devices including advanced technologies or even simple aids such as walkers to help stroke victims recover and move better while assisting with weight-bearing.
- Emotional and cognitive therapy: Since strokes impact the brain, many seniors deal with emotional side effects as well as impaired memory and cognitive function. These therapies will work on improving memory and teaching victims to regain control of their emotions.
The most important thing to remember with stroke rehabilitation is that while some seniors will make a full recovery, others will need to work on their stroke recovery for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, only about 10% of stroke survivors experience this type of complete recovery. Many people are able to live full, healthy lives after a stroke, but they may not make a 100% full recovery to where they were before their stroke occurred.
Part of recovery also includes working on preventing strokes from reoccurring. Around 25% of strokes in the United States are actually recurring strokes. Seniors who want to prevent this issue from happening again, will need to focus on maintaining a healthy diet, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, exercising daily and removing tobacco and alcohol from their daily routine. This type of healthy lifestyle can lessen a senior's chances of having a repeat stroke.
While the road may be long, or unending for some stroke victims, seniors need the support of their caregivers and loved ones in order to make a full recovery from this serious medical issue.