Currently in the United States, every 40 seconds someone suffers from a stroke. This translates to nearly 800,000 people per year, of which 140,000 result in death. Given our country’s propensity for fast food and bingeable tv programs, this isn’t that surprising. However, we should be considering that this speaks volumes about our healthcare and culture. Strokes are now the third leading cause of death in the country, but it’s also one of the most preventable. Strokes are usually induced by people who have high blood pressure, smoke or chew tobacco, or who have diabetes.
However, the most at risk population for strokes are our elderly. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. In fact, the risk of stroke increases twofold every decade after the age of 55. In honor of National Stroke Awareness month, we’d like to share some helpful information on what a stroke is, what causes strokes, and how to prevent a stroke from happening in an older adult.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is what occurs when the blood flow to the brain gets cut off. Similar to a heart attack, you can think of strokes like “brain attacks.” When the brain cells that need oxygen are deprived of this vital blood flow, they will shut off and die. A stroke is a serious occurrence because the death of brain cells can immobilize the victim and possibly result in permanent brain damage. There are two types of strokes.
An ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack in that a clot forms in the blood vessels surrounding the brain. These can also occur when too much plaque from fatty deposits and cholesterol block blood vessels. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke and account for 80% of all strokes.
This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks open. This rupture leads to blood seeping on to brain tissue, which can cause damage to brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes typically occur because of high blood pressure, or an aneurysm, which is a thinness in the walls of a blood vessel.
The effects of the stroke depend on where the stroke occurs in the brain. Some areas control motor function and some control memory, so stroke victims may experience temporary or permanent loss of mobility in a portion of their body, or lose the ability to speak. Some people recover from strokes without permanent damage, but more than ⅔ of stroke victims continue with some sort of disability. It’s important to recognize the signs of a stroke so you can treat it as quickly as possible.
Signs of a Stroke
Knowing the signs of a stroke can save a life and prevent lasting brain damage. The sooner you can get treatment for a stroke, the better chances you have of saving brain cells and preventing further damage to the brain. A helpful acronym for knowing when to call emergency services is FAST.
Other common signs and characteristics are:
- Onset weakness or paralysis of half or part of the body
- Numbness on one half or part of the body
- Sudden change in level of awareness
- Partial vision loss
- Double vision
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Unbalance and vertigo
If you suspect or are unsure if someone may be having a stroke, it is wise to call 9/11 anyway. However, the safest method is to use preventative guidelines to make sure you never have a stroke in the first place. There are plenty of healthy tips and tricks you can use to reduce your chances of stroke, but there is no guarantee that you will never have one, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure or strokes.
Preventing Strokes in the Elderly
You can’t reverse the advancement of age, but you can take several precautionary measures to ensure that risk of stroke is severely lessened. If you know that you may be more susceptible to a specific cause of strokes, you should work with a licensed medical professional to develop a plan that addresses this. Here are the most common causes and preventative measures for strokes.
- High Blood Pressure
- Frequent Tobacco Usage
- Heart Disease
- High Weight and Infrequent Exercise
- Blood Thinning Medication
- Old Age
- Family History
Strokes are a reality for many over the age of 65, but not inevitable. Here are several ways you can significantly reduce your chances of stroke as an elderly person.
Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the number one leading contributor to strokes in adults. Doctors recommend maintaining a blood pressure of less than 135/85 to be safe. If this is too aggressive, a goal closer to 140/90 may be suitable. Having lower blood pressure not only reduces your chance of stroke but increases your overall heart health significantly. You can reduce your blood pressure by exercising, reducing salt intake, avoiding high cholesterol foods, eating fruits and veggies, and quitting smoking.
Obesity is a significant factor directly related to strokes. If you’re overweight, losing as few as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your risk of stroke. Following a better health and fitness for seniors regimen is the first step to lowering your weight. However, having a balanced, moderated diet is the best way to ensure you lose weight. Doctors recommend eating no more than 1500-2000 calories per day, and doing exercise, even if its low intensity, a daily habit.
Drinking alcohol in extreme moderation is good for you, but as most people know, anything outside of 1-2 per day does nothing good for your health. Your goal for lowering risk of stroke should be to aim for little to no alcohol consumption. If you do drink, pick up the red wine, and keep it to 1-2 glasses per day. For reference, a standard sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Smoking raises your risk of stroke because it contributes to plaque buildup and thickens the blood. Quitting smoking can also raise your overall health and fitness, which will contribute to lowering your chance of stroke. Quitting smoking is one of the best options for preventing a stroke in the elderly.
Looking To The Future
At Landmark Senior Living, our goal is to create the utmost in independent living for every one of our senior housing residents. Our independent living program is tailored to each individual’s needs and includes robust daily exercise, yoga, & strength training classes available for seniors to become as healthy as possible. Our broad range of activities and events will help you to take care of your mental and physical health.