Every 40 seconds someone in the United States suffers a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke each year, making stroke the fifth leading cause of death among Americans.
Seniors are at greater risk: Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65.
Because up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, The CDC has dedicated May to stroke prevention and known as National Stroke Awareness month, which aims to increase public knowledge about the signs and symptoms of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Since stroke is the leading cause of disability among older Americans, learning about risk factors for stroke in the elderly can help you act quickly to save a parent or loved one. The good news is that a person’s risk for stroke can usually be managed through healthy choices and properly managing medical conditions. Both will allow your loved one to live independently for years to come.
What is a Stroke?Put simply, a stroke happens when blood cannot reach the brain. Also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or “brain attack”, strokes occur when brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die as the result of a clot or a blood vessel bursting. When crucial nutrients cannot reach the brain, permanent damage and disability may result.
Recognizing the Signs of StrokeA stroke is a medical emergency. Knowing how to identify the signs and symptoms of stroke can prevent strokes and save your loved one’s life. The sooner a person receives treatment and help for stroke, the lower the risk of death or disability.
Five common warning signs of stroke for stroke prevention include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg especially on one side of the body. The loss of sensation and voluntary movement may be complete or partial and accompanied by a tingling feeling or drooling.
- Difficulty talking, loss of speech, sudden confusion, and trouble articulating words are symptoms that can signal an oncoming stroke.
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes or sudden vision loss. The person may see double or their visual field may black out completely.
- Trouble walking, loss of coordination and balance, and dizziness may occur as a result of oxygen deprivation to the brain.
- Sudden severe headache without any other known cause can accompany stroke.
Who is at Risk for Stroke?There are some risk factors of stroke that can be managed, while other factors such as genetics cannot be controlled.
Uncontrollable risk factors for stroke include:
- Age. Older adults are at increased risk for stroke. The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade between the ages of 55 and 85.
- Gender. Men experience a higher number of strokes, but strokes are more deadly among women.
- Family History. If someone in your immediate family suffered a stroke, you may have a genetic tendency for the condition. A family history of high blood pressure and diabetes can also contribute to familial stroke.
- Lifestyle choices can impact a senior’s risk for stroke. Smoking cigarettes, excessive drinking, and obesity are all risk factors that can be controlled before they result in a problem.
Lowering Your Risk for StrokeMillion Hearts®, a national initiative that was launched in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends keeping in the mind the ABCS of health to prevent stroke:
- Appropriate Aspirin low-dose therapy for those who need it. Make sure to ask your doctor if taking aspirin is right for your loved one.
- Blood pressure control. Taking steps to lower blood pressure could include eating a healthier diet low in saturated fat and sodium, exercising regularly, and following medication instructions.
- Cholesterol management. Your loved one should have their cholesterol checked regularly, and if he or she has high cholesterol, work with their doctor to lower it.
- Stop Smoking and limit alcohol intake.
Remember, we are never too old to make changes. Taking a proactive approach to wellness in later years can increase a senior’s quality of life and lower the risk for a stroke.