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Speed key after suffering stroke

Editor’s Note

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.

Acting quickly could mean the difference between life and death for someone suffering a stroke. The treatment received within the first few hours following a stroke can promote recovery, prevent another stroke, and even save the person’s life. That’s why it’s crucial to know and recognize the signs that you or someone you love may be having a stroke, so that treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Stroke signs come on suddenly and can include a severe headache; feelings of dizziness and a loss of coordination, including difficulty walking; confusion, including trouble communicating through speech or understanding what others are saying; feelings of weakness in the face, an arm or a leg, often on one side of the body; and sudden problems with vision, sometimes only in one eye.

Use the letters in the word “FAST” to remember the signs of a stroke. F – Face: The person’s smile is lopsided or their face is drooping to one side. A – Arm: The person is weak or numb in one arm. When both arms are raised, one arm sags down. S – Speech: The person in unable to speak or is difficult to understand. Words are slurred or don’t make sense. T – Time: Call 9-1-1 immediately and get the person to a hospital by ambulance.

It is important to get the person experiencing stroke symptoms to the hospital as soon as possible and to note the time when signs of a stroke first occurred. The best stoke treatments are only effective within the first three hours after the stroke has occurred, and stroke victims may not be able to receive them if treatment does not begin within that time frame.

An ambulance should always be called to take a person to the hospital, because the ambulance crew can begin diagnosing and treating stroke symptoms en route to the hospital. They can also alert the medical staff at the hospital that they are on their way with a possible stroke victim and what that person’s symptoms are. A person who thinks they are having a stroke, even a minor one, should never try driving themselves to the hospital.

Despite the fact that strokes are most successfully treated in the first few hours after they occur, many people who aren’t severely affected by the stroke’s symptoms wait hours or even days before seeking medical treatment. This is especially true for those who suffer a transient ischemic attack (TIA), in which the blockage causing a stroke breaks free after a few minutes and symptoms go away.

Even though symptoms subside following a TIA, it is important that they not be ignored. Treating a TIA as a medical emergency can lower the risk of a more serious stroke in the future. The American Stroke Association states that more than a third of those people who do not seek treatment following a TIA experience a major stroke within a year, and 10 to 15 percent will suffer a major stroke within three months.

Victims of an ischemic stroke (a stroke in which the brain’s blood flow is disrupted by a blockage that does not free itself) or a TIA who arrive at the hospital within the first three hours after the stroke are eligible to receive a treatment known as a thrombolytic, which helps dissolve the blockage and improves the victim’s chances of recovery, helping them to recover more fully and spend less time in a rehabilitation facility.

Other forms of treatment are necessary for hemorrhagic strokes, in which ruptured vessels leak blood into the surrounding brain tissue. In a treatment called an endovascular procedure, a tube inserted through an artery in the arm or leg is guided to the brain and used to place a device to repair the damaged vessel. In other cases, bleeding from a ruptured aneurysm may have to be repaired by a clip installed during surgery.

A stroke may leave its victims with many lasting aftereffects. For some, that could mean paralysis or weakness on one or both sides of the body, including trouble chewing or swallowing. For others, there could be trouble speaking or understanding people. Some victims face problems with cognitive functions such as thinking, learning and memory, while others have emotional issues and depression. Many experience feelings of numbness or pain in their extremities.

The rate of recovering from a stroke varies from person to person. While some stroke sufferers are able to recover in a matter of weeks or months, others may never fully recover and spend the rest of their lives with lasting disabilities. Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke and seeking medical treatment immediately can limit damage to the brain and aid in recovery.

The road to recovery typically begins in the first couple days following a stroke, while the patient is still hospitalized.

Depending on the kind and extent of disabilities resulting from the stroke, rehabilitation could include physical therapy to help the victim recover movement, balance and coordination for tasks like standing up and walking; occupational therapy to assist in the recovery of fine motor skills for daily activities such as bathing, eating and writing; and speech therapy to assist with talking and understanding speech. Speech therapy is also needed by victims who have problems swallowing following a stroke.

One key component of any stroke recovery plan is addressing the health risks and lifestyle choices, such as obesity, high blood pressure and their underlying causes, that contributed to the stroke, since the chance of having subsequent strokes is high.

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Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings.

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