May is American Stroke Awareness Month: Know the Warning Signs
Today’s guest post was written and submitted by Susan Ashby, Community Relations Manager for the Superior Senior Care team.
The American Stroke Association has designated May American Stroke Awareness Month in an effort to spread the word on identifying, preventing and treating stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strokes kill about 140,000 Americans each year, which equals about one in every 20 deaths. But it’s not all bad news. Strokes are preventable. In fact, the CDC reports that some 80 percent of them could have been avoided.
What’s more, identifying strokes in their early stages—acting FAST, so to speak—can help prevent them from turning fatal or causing disability. Why? Because every minute, quite literally, counts during a stroke. In fact, approximately 2 million brain cells are lost every minute of a stroke. In short, the earlier the treatment, the better the chance for a full recovery. And there’s no better way to ensure early-stage treatment than by getting well-acquainted with stroke warning signs.
The Warning Signs of Stroke
Hopefully, if you’re an aging adult or a senior caregiver, you’re already familiar with FAST. This easy acronym helps you or someone around you identify whether you’re feeling slightly off or if your symptoms are something more serious. It will also help you determine when it’s time to call 911, which could help prevent serious stroke-related complications and death.
- F: Face Drooping—Face drooping is the most immediate and evident sign of stroke, so it’s not something that should be ignored. Stroke sufferers tend to have sudden weakness on one side of the body, which causes one side of the face to droop or feel numb. Ask the potential sufferer to smile and note if it’s lopsided.
- A: Arm Weakness—Another simple exercise you can perform on a potential stroke victim is to ask them to raise both arms. If you notice that one arm drifts downward, it may be a sign of stroke. Ask the person whether or not their arm feels numb, as numbness on one side of the body is another important indicator.
- S: Speech Difficulty—Those suffering from a stroke often experience slurred speech and may have trouble repeating simple sentences. If you’re around someone who may be suffering from a stroke, ask them to repeat a simple sentence and listen for slurring.
- T: Time to Call 911—If you or someone around you exhibits any of these symptoms—even only temporarily—call 911 immediately. Remember to move quickly in order to prevent further complications.
While FAST is the simplest and most straightforward way to remember stroke symptoms, they’re not the only factors to consider. Strokes also come with confusion, dizziness, loss of balance, sudden severe headache, sudden numbness or weakness, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes and other symptoms.
If you are a senior or you work with seniors regularly, it helps to have accessible literature—such as a refrigerator magnet or a reminder on the nightstand—nearby at all times. The American Stroke Association offers many free handouts, including brochures, magnets, posters and other resources to help educate the public on the dangers and signs of stroke.
Stroke Risk Factors
It also helps to know whether or not you fall into a category with a high-risk factor for stroke. First things first: Understand that while strokes can happen to people in almost any age group, they’re much more prevalent in older adults. In fact, the vast majority of first-ever strokes occur in people over the age of 65. Stroke prevention and education is an important factor of any good senior care plan, and all seniors should understand the warning signs.
Common conditions and lifestyle factors can contribute to your likelihood of having a stroke. For example, high blood pressure (hypertension) is the leading cause of stroke and the most significant risk factor. When researchers say that the majority of strokes are preventable, it’s because they’re attributed to high blood pressure, which can be controlled. Managing hypertension through medication, diet and close monitoring will help lower your stroke risk factor.
What’s more, diabetes (Types 1 and 2), high blood cholesterol, peripheral artery disease (the narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to your legs and arms), obesity, carotid artery disease (when the neck arteries become narrowed by fatty acids) and other health concerns can cause you to be more susceptible to stroke. Of course, any factor that contributes to poor heart health—smoking, poor diet, lack of physical exercise and other factors—also significantly increases your stroke risk.
Most Strokes are Preventable: Understanding How
With all of this taken into account, it might seem like the best ways to prevent strokes are the obvious ones: quit smoking, follow a heart-healthy diet and increase physical activity. Indeed, these are the simplest things you can do to lower your risk factor. However, there are several more things you can do to edge yourself out of the high-risk category.
Another significant way to prevent stroke is to closely follow the medical and health-related advice of your physician. He or she will not only encourage you to pick up more heart-friendly habits, but also to manage the conditions that may contribute to higher risk. For example, better control of blood sugar and cholesterol are used as preventative measures.
Keep FAST in Mind All the Time
Remember: It’s never too late to prevent a stroke, so don’t be deterred if you’re starting the journey from square one. If, however, you find yourself in a situation where you or someone nearby appears to be suffering from stroke symptoms, it’s important that you keep FAST fresh in your memory and react immediately. Remember that every minute a person suffers from a stroke could worsen the outcome, so acting fast is vital.
Susan Ashby joined the Superior Senior Care team in July of 2014 as Community Relations Manager. With over 27 years of experience in geriatric health, Susan brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to Superior Senior Care and plays an integral part in connecting consumers and communities with resources for independent living.