Seniors in St. Louis need home health care services for any number of reasons, but one of the most preventable is stroke. Each year, 795,000 Americans will suffer a stroke, and for the thousands who do survive, the road to recovery can be a long one as many patients work to overcome limited mobility, speech and swallowing impairments, and memory loss.
May is Stroke Awareness Month, making it the perfect time for a quick refresher on protecting yourself and your loved ones against this devastating blockage to the brain and what you can do if you suspect someone is suffering a stroke in order to save their life.
Going on the defense
Although age, race and family history can all increase your chance of a stroke, 90 percent of risk factors can be thwarted by following a healthy lifestyle and properly managing—or even overcoming—chronic health conditions. While the risk for stroke doubles each decade after age 55, you’re never too young to start taking steps to protect yourself.
- Get your blood pressure under control. Uncontrolled blood pressure can cause your brain’s blood vessels to narrow or rupture as well as cause blood clots to form in your arteries. Try to maintain a blood pressure of less than 135/85 through daily exercise, healthy eating, and if needed, medication.
- Treat your heart well. An irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation, makes you five times more likely to experience a stroke by causing clots to form in the heart which then travel to the brain. With almost 10 percent of seniors over age 65 diagnosed with AFib, treatment, including the use of blood thinners, is critical to your health.
- Take care of your mental health. Many people manage stress and depression through unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking and overeating, which ups their risk factors for stroke. In fact, people who experience depression are 29 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Make time each day for self-care, whether that’s yoga, meditation or a walk outside, and schedule a session with a mental health professional if life feels out of your control.
- Keep your blood sugar in check. Your risk of stroke goes up 150 percent if you are diagnosed with diabetes. Properly managing your blood glucose levels, adhering to medication, and following a doctor-approved diet can help stop diabetes from taking that dangerous next step.
- Snuff out your cigarette. From the moment you take your last puff and put the pack down for good, you reduce your stroke risk. According to the World Health Organization, within 20 minutes of cessation, your blood pressure drops, and within five years, your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
- Curb the cholesterol. Just as cholesterol build-up in your blood vessels can put you at risk of a heart attack, it can also lead to a blockage in the brain. To keep cholesterol levels in control, swap the saturated fats in red meat and dairy for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-rich fish. A healthcare provider may also prescribe medication until your cholesterol can be fully controlled by diet.
Know the signs of stroke and the steps to take
Because stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of short- and long-term disability in seniors, knowing the signs of an attack and what do to in the heat of the moment can be life-saving. Getting a victim care within three hours of the first symptoms can significantly improve their chance of recovery.
The National Stroke Association has created F-A-S-T, an easy-to-remember acronym you can use to jump into action at the first sign of a stroke, whether in a loved one or in yourself:
- FACE – Does one side of the face droop when the person smiles?
- ARMS – When the person lifts both arms, does one arm drift back down?
- SPEECH – Is the person’s speech slurred or does it sound odd?
- TIME – If you see any of these signs in yourself or someone else, call 911 right away.
Being aware of the signs of a stroke could make a big difference – it could even save a life!