On her way to water aerobics one lovely July morning, my 80 year old mother-in-law suffered a major stroke. She followed a familiar course of treatment: admitted to the ER, intensive care followed by general hospital care typically given to stroke patients. Time in a rehab facility was finally followed by out-patient physical therapy. She was with us for about ten more years, but was forever changed. Her speech was slurred; walking and daily activities required assistance; mentally, she was never as sharp.
The stroke my Dad had while dressing for church on Mother’s Day turned out differently. I found him lying in his bedroom. Although the paramedics rushed him to the ER, within five hours, Dad passed away. The details of how stroke has touched my family may be unique and personal, but they are remarkably similar to the experiences of many Americans.
A Stroke is an emergency, a brain attack that cuts off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. There are a few different types of stroke:
- Ischemic strokes occur when blood vessels become blocked.
- Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel leaks blood into the brain.
- “Mini-strokes” or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) occur when the blood supply to the brain is briefly interrupted.
Every 40 seconds someone in America has a stroke. There are nearly 800,000 stroke victims each year; about 550,000 survive. Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death among US adults, killing 128,000 people every year. In 2010, the US spent $73.7 billion for stroke-related medical costs and care for those dealing with stroke-related disability.
Given the huge toll associated with strokes, prevention is crucial. Data the National Stroke Association shows that 80% of strokes can be prevented by: managing blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol; by keeping active, eating well and eliminating smoking.
Signs of a Stroke
Symptoms of stroke appear suddenly and include:
- Numbness/weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Confusion or trouble speaking/understanding speech.
- Vision problems in one or both eyes.
- Problems with balance, dizziness, coordination or walking.
The human brain contains 100 billion cells. When strokes occur, they damage the brain, killing about two million brain cells each minute. As time elapses, the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death increases. Immediate action is crucial when it comes to care for stroke victims.
FAST Stroke Test
Remember the acronym “Think FAST” if you or someone you know may be having a stroke.
- F: Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
- A: Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S: Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- T: Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately.
Stroke Patient Care Plan
Every stroke is different and each person’s recovery is, as well. Post-stroke care for elderly patients can be challenging for both the patient their family caregivers. Here are some valuable resources that will help you cope.
American Stroke Association, Division of American Heart Association:
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke interactive tutorial:
Care for yourself as you care for others. The post-stroke journey is almost as long and arduous for caregivers as it is for the stroke victim in your care. Healthy self-care gives you strength, stamina and resilience to go the distance. Remember the advice you hear on an airplane before takeoff: “put your oxygen mask on before trying to help others.” You can’t help if you’re sick or exhausted. Make time for yourself. It will be good for both you and the one in your care. Do whatever you can to release stress, to care for your health and well-being.
For more information, please review our Stroke Resources.
Jane Meier Hamilton MSN, RN, is founder of Partners on the Path LLC, providing caregiver support programs to businesses that employ, and nonprofits that support professional and family caregivers. Find her book, The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care (Infinity 2011) in print, one-hour audio, and e-book formats at your favorite online provider.