Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of long-term disability. Whether you live far from your parents or nearby, you can help them take steps to prepare in case one of them ever has a stroke.
First, talk to them about how high their risk of stroke is. If they have any of the conditions that increase their risk of stroke, they should be taking steps to improve these conditions. High-risk conditions include heart disease, poor diet or nutrition, diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity, and inactivity as well as elevated blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, or triglycerides. According to the American Stroke Association, 80% of strokes are preventable. Have your parents talk to their doctor to develop a plan to improve these risk factors and decrease their chances of having a stroke.
If their conditions are such that they cannot easily improve them, you may want to talk to them about moving to a senior community that includes medical supervision. There are different types of senior communities available, including ones for very active seniors. At the very least, they should look for a home that has a stroke center nearby. If they haven’t downsized yet, now might be a great time.
Discuss with them the warning signs of stroke. It usually comes on very suddenly. Common symptoms of stroke include:
- Drooping or numbness on one side of the face
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body, often exhibited in a weak arm (unable to reach for or grasp things) or uneven gait (walking with a limp or can’t walk straight)
- Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Slurred speech, inability to speak coherently
- Mental confusion; unable to answer questions or understand what is being asked
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Severe headache with no obvious cause
An easy mnemonic to remember key symptoms is F.A.S.T. It stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time to call 911!
Interestingly, a study on the CDC website found that 93% of stroke patients notice a weakness or numbness on one side, which is why we developed our Neuralert stroke detection monitor to quickly detect asymmetry of arm movement, one of the first signs of possible stroke. Quick detection can significantly decrease the risk of long-term disability or death.
Help your parents develop an action plan if they feel “off” so they don’t wait until they have a full-blown stroke to get help. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and those “off” feelings may signal a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack or TIA.) While symptoms of a TIA usually only last a few minutes to a few hours, one-third of all TIAs precede a stroke, most within one year. So taking action when there are minor symptoms could potentially prevent a worse attack.
Have a list of phone numbers and action steps in the event that a stroke does take place. Whoever notices the stroke happening should insist that your parent be taken to the nearby stroke center, if it is close. If not, your parent can be stabilized at the nearby hospital and transferred there. Of course, make sure you are on the list to be called if anything happens.
Prevention is your biggest weapon against stroke. After the stroke, time is your worst enemy. Quick action must take place to limit long-term damage. Help your parents prepare in case a stroke should occur so that they take control of their health and future. Ask their doctor if a Neuralert stroke detection wristband would help monitor your parent’s health to send a warning in the first moments of stroke in order to reduce long-term damage.