Whether you are a professional caregiver or a family member taking care of a loved one, witnessing a major health event like a stroke or a heart attack can be very distressing. However, as people age, such major major medical events do become more common. It’s important to know how to respond when something like this happens, especially if you spend a lot of time with an aging loved one. Since May was Stroke Awareness Month, we’d like to take a moment to talk about strokes and to recognize when one is happening.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is what happens when the flow of blood to the brain is blocked, either by a clot or a bleed. A stroke is called “ischemic” when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, stopping the blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or leaks. Either type of stroke damages the brain tissue, resulting in the symptoms that we call a stroke.
Increasing stroke awareness is lifesaving
By increasing the public’s awareness of how to prevent strokes, recognize them, and react to them, many lives can be saved. According to the CDC, an average of 795,000 people in the United States experience strokes each year. Of that number, 75% occur in people who have never experienced a previous stroke. This means that 610,000 people annually will face symptoms that they and the people around them may not recognize. Prompt action can increase the odds of survival and lessen the chances of future disability.
Strokes can cause serious damage and long-lasting effects, so we all should take steps to prevent them. Exercising, eating healthy foods, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling high blood pressure, managing medical conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes, and getting regular checkups can all lessen the chance of having a stroke.
Signs that someone may be having a stroke:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in part of the body, often affecting one side of the body more than the other.
- Difficulties in understanding or forming speech. This may be accompanied by confusion.
- Vision difficulties that affect one or both eyes.
- Balance problems, difficulties in walking or any loss of coordination.
- Sudden severe headaches.
Although ⅔ of strokes are experienced by those over the age of 65, it is possible to experience a stroke at any age, so always take symptoms seriously.
A widely used mnemonic for potential strokes is F.A.S.T.
F: Face. Often one side of a person’s face may droop or look crooked. You will often be able to test this by asking the person to smile.
A: Arms. Ask the person you suspect of having a stroke to raise both arms; one may drift downwards or seem weaker than the other.
S: Speech. Often those experiencing a stroke have slurred or garbled speech. Ask them to repeat a sentence or two.
T: Time. This is to remind you that time is crucial in stroke situations. Make sure to note the time so you can report it accurately to medical professionals, and call 9-1-1 immediately. It is important to get to a hospital as soon as possible, even if the symptoms disappear. The Stroke Recovery Foundation urges the use of an ambulance rather than driving the person yourself. It will be faster, plus medical attention can begin immediately.
Consequences of having a stroke:
- The most serious consequence of a stroke is death . The American Heart Association reports that in 2019, 1 out of every 19 deaths in the United States was the result of a stroke. This works out to a death every 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
- Paralysis of one side body or a loss of motor control may be temporary or permanent.
- Some patients may experience sensory disturbances, meaning that they may not recognize touch, temperature, or the position of their own limbs. Sensory disturbances can also cause chronic pain.
- Approximately 25% of stroke victims can be left with language difficulties (aphasia). They may struggle to write, speak, or even understand language.
- As a result of physical issues, people who have strokes can also experience depression or anger, and personality changes can result from brain damage caused by the stroke.
Rehabilitation after a stroke:
According to the NIH, “Stroke is the leading cause of serious adult disability in the United States.”
Many stroke patients are able to improve their disabilities, and some are even able to fully recover after various types of rehabilitation treatment, such as physical, speech, occupational, and psychological therapies. Rehabilitation can often begin in the hospital, as soon as the patient is stable. Treatment can then continue in a nursing facility, a rehab center, or at home.
Although friends and relatives want to help, it is difficult (and often impossible) to care for a stroke patient with physical and mental challenges at home without help, so many families rely on caregivers.
In-home care can provide help with:
- Washing and grooming.
- Getting dressed or undressed.
- Moving from the bed to the recliner, wheelchair, or couch.
- Using the toilet.
- Light housework, such as laundry, tidying, or kitchen cleaning up.
- Healthy meal preparation and serving.
- Driving to medical appointments and other errands.
- Providing companionship. This can include chatting, doing puzzles, playing games together, or reading out loud.
- Paying bills and managing finances.
- Medication reminders. Although personal care aides do not administer injections or intravenous medicines, they do give medication reminders, which can ease the worry of family members who are concerned about stroke patients coping with organizational failures that come with memory loss.
- Keeping the stroke patient active to the best of his or her ability.
- Monitoring for signs of memory loss or depression and other mental health issues.
People who are recovering from strokes, even those who are regaining their independence and physical abilities, may still experience coordination and balance issues which can increase the risk of falls. Please feel free to download Shepherd’s Staff’s home safety checklist to help reduce risks in the home.