A stroke occurs when blood cannot flow properly to the brain due to a clot in the arteries. The brain becomes suffocated without proper oxygen, and the longer this occurs, the more neurons are destroyed--1.9 million per minute, says the National Stroke Association.

According to GoRedforWomen.org, stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability in the U.S. Even if your senior has always led a healthy life, a stroke can come at any time and have any number of harmful reactions if not treated quickly--including loss of life. There are five major symptoms that someone is having a stroke, and all of them come on very suddenly. In fact, some are very evident immediately. However, you do not need to be experiencing every symptom in order to be having a stroke; just one is enough.

Blurred vision

  • If vision suddenly becomes blurred, in either one or both eyes, and does not go away after a few moments, this could be a sign of a stroke. This is typically severe--much worse than a typical need for eyeglasses, for example. This may mean that a clot is blocking blood flow to the vision center of the brain.

Loss of balance

  • A loss of balance or coordination can be caused when the clot blocks blood that flows to the parts of the brain which control movement. You may notice someone stumbling, failing to stand or walk properly, or lose control of their limbs altogether.

Numbness or slackness in face muscles, including difficulty talking

  • If the clot blocks flow to the speech or movement centers of the brain, your senior's face may go slack (especially on one side, since the brain is separated into halves, and what clots one side may not clot the other). This can cause a sudden difficulty speaking, including slurred speech, much like someone who is intoxicated or numbed from dental surgery. This is not a normal display of behavior, and should be noticed immediately.

Numbness or weakness in an arm or leg

  • Just like facial muscle weakness, sudden weakness in arms or legs can signify that the brain is not getting oxygen. If you ask a senior to lift both arms, for example, and they can only lift one, despite clearly wanting to complete the task, this can be a sign that the brain is struggling to get oxygen and command the body to move.

Severe headache

  • If you see any of these symptoms come on suddenly and last for longer than a few moments, call 911 and immediately to seek emergency medical assistance. The sooner a stroke is caught and treated, the less harmful it will be.
  • Family histories of stroke and medications known to increase risk of stroke should be kept in mind when planning where a senior lives. If moving is an option, move closer to a hospital or facility where strokes can be treated, since time is the life-saving element concerning strokes.
  • Seniors lower their risk of stroke by quitting smoking, avoiding medications known to increase the likelihood of a stroke, and by talking to a doctor to personalize a stroke prevention plan.

What to Do

Strokes can happen when an artery bursts, as well, and a common reaction is a severe headache with no other cause. If your senior is not prone to headaches and/or migraines, has not received a head injury, and is not being exposed to sudden high-input sensory experiences (such as a sudden bright light or loud noise), but they get a striking headache without apparent cause, they may be having a stroke. If the artery has burst, not only is the brain not getting needed oxygen but blood is pouring into areas of the body where it does not belong. Although it may seem alarmist to jump into action, it is much better to be safe and get a diagnosis of severe headache than to ignore a stroke in progress.

Sources

American Heart Association. What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke? Answers by heart. Available at https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300317.pdf. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke Signs and Symptoms. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

Go Red for Women Editors. Symptoms of a Stroke. Goredforwomen.org. Available at https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/symptoms_of_heart_disease_in_women/symptoms-of-a-stroke/. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

Mayo Clinic. Stroke: Symptoms and causes. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/dxc-20117265. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

National Stroke Association. Signs and Symptoms of Stroke. Available at http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/recognizing-stroke/signs-and-symptoms-stroke. Retrieved February 25, 2016.

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