May is American Stroke Month, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke. And every four minutes someone dies from a stroke. If your senior parent has ever experienced a stroke before, you know that it can turn their life and yours upside down. In fact, more than half of survivors 65 and older have reduced mobility.
What Happens in a Stroke?
If your loved one were to have a stroke, part of their brain dies. Because of a blockage or bleeding, their brain doesn't receive the blood, and thus the oxygen, it needs. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die.
The result of the stroke depends on the area of the brain affected and the amount of damage. A small stroke might mean temporary difficulty walking. A larger stroke may mean they have to permanently use a wheelchair, can no longer walk or swallow.
But there is good news. According to the American Stroke Society, 80% of strokes are preventable.
Can you a Prevent Stroke?
You can’t control whether you have a family history of stroke risk factors. But there are steps you and your senior parent can take to help prevent a stroke from happening.
Manage your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the leading cause of stroke. It's also one of the risk factors that's easiest to control. Talk with your healthcare provider about what you can do to manage your blood pressure, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet or reducing stress in your life.
Being sedentary significantly increases your chance of having a stroke. Take a walk. Use the stairs. Park farther away from the store. Do whatever you can to add more steps to your day. An inactive lifestyle can increase you or your senior loved one’s chances of stroke through high blood pressure and heart disease. It also contributes to obesity which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes – all of which can lead to stroke.
While reducing the amount you smoke can decrease your cancer risk, it doesn't similarly reduce your stroke risk. According to a study in the British Medical Journal, smokers need to quit altogether to avoid most of the risk related to heart disease and stroke.
Cut Back on Fat and Sodium
Fat and sodium (salt) spell trouble when you're trying to reduce your stroke risk. Saturated and trans fats can lead to higher cholesterol, a contributor to stroke risk.
Eating a high-sodium diet can increase your blood pressure and high blood pressure can lead to stroke. Most of the salt we eat doesn't come from salt we add at the dinner table. Instead, most comes from processed, packaged and restaurant food. Check with your healthcare provider about how much salt and fat to include in your daily diet.
Manage your Stress
Keeping your stress level under control isn't just good for your mental health. It's also good for your heart and reduces your stroke risk. More and more studies show that chronic stress doesn’t just increase your blood pressure. It can also increase your risk of stroke. Exercise, meditation, yoga and tai chi can all help you better manage stress.
Manage your Diabetes
It might be surprising, but there’s a clear relationship between diabetes and stroke risk. According to the American Heart Association, those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke (than those who don't have diabetes). If you or your senior parent have diabetes, it’s even more important to work with your healthcare provider to control it.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting a good night's sleep isn't a "nice to have" when it comes to preventing a stroke. How you feel in the morning sets the mood for the whole day. If you're rested, you're more likely to make better choices about your health - eat more healthfully and move more. If you're overtired, that's much less likely.
Watch for Symptoms of Depression
Depression can also be a stroke risk factor. In a study published in the journal Stroke, it significantly increased the risk of stroke. Watch for symptoms for you or your loved one such as fatigue, feeling helpless or hopeless, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. If they last more than a week or two, check in with your healthcare provider.
If you or your senior parent has been diagnosed with depression, watch for intensifying symptoms.
Be Aware of the Signs
Stroke symptoms typically appear all of a sudden. It’s important to know what the symptoms are. If you or a loved one experiences one, call 911 immediately!
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Knowing what signs to look for and taking control of your health can help prevent a stroke from happening to you or your senior loved one. Subscribe to our eNewsletter for more tips and information on caring for your senior parent.