When many older Americans talk about strokes, they may be referring to their golf scores or how they show affection for their cats. That is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but the real truth – according to many medical experts – is that most people typically do not give much serious thought to the medical-emergency kind of stroke, unless one affects someone they know.
In general terms, a stroke is what happens when a person has an interruption of blood flow to their brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain is otherwise affected somehow. Almost 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year, which averages to about one occurring every 40 seconds. Most strokes are not fatal, but they are nevertheless the fifth-most common cause of death in the United States.
By damaging brain tissue, strokes can result in many severe physical or cognitive deficits, which makes strokes a leading cause of serious long-term disability. How a person recovers from a stroke depends on the area of the brain involved and the extent of damage done. Sadly, almost one-third of all stroke survivors have another stroke event within five years.
The American Heart Association estimates that up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented if vulnerable individuals simply modify their basic behaviors. The leading causes of stroke include poor diets, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and other common lifestyle choices, so decisions such as losing weight or giving up cigarettes can literally save lives.
Are older people at greater risk?
Strokes can affect people of all ages, but elder citizens often are more likely to suffer them for a number of reasons. For example, people who are retired from an active career may settle into a more sedentary lifestyle and inevitably gain weight. Such less-active circumstances can promote other contributing factors for a stroke risk, like high cholesterol or diabetes. As older individuals’ bodies change, their cardiovascular functions naturally slow down as well, making them more susceptible to coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or other age-related conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a list of steps anyone can take to help lower their risk of having a stroke, including weight loss, heathier eating, exercise, and many more. For older adults, the Surgeon General recommends a total of at least two hours and thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as a brisk walk, swimming, dancing, etc. It also is extremely important to have your blood pressure monitored regularly by your doctor and to take BP-modifying medications if necessary.
Be able to recognize the warning signs
Strokes require immediate medical attention, and the sooner a victim is given proper treatment, the better the chances of survival. Every minute counts. The amount of time between the first symptoms and arrival at a hospital can determine the outcome. Thanks to quick response and modern technology, now more than 70 percent of stroke victims survive the attacks.
Given the urgent need for treatment, it is essential for everyone to know what warning signs to look for in the event of a stroke. To support that goal, the American Heart Association created “FAST” — an appropriate acronym. The letters stand for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time, and each term signifies a different question that should be asked, in regards to the victim. These questions include:
FACE – Does one side of the person’s face (or smile) droop?
ARMS – Does the person have trouble raising both arms?
SPPECH – Does the person have trouble talking?
TIME – Don’t waste any: Call 9-1-1 right away.
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, look for those warnings and get help immediately. Waiting to see if the symptoms go away on their own can be a tragic mistake.
With or without a stroke, be prepared
The healthy lifestyle suggestions above are excellent advice for anybody. However, no amount of exercising, better eating, and medication will stop the aging process forever. Ideally, we can stay fit and delay the inevitable, but mortality has to catch up to us all someday. In the meantime, a non-fatal stroke could impair your judgment and cognitive ability.
That’s why it is so important to have your personal affairs in order now. To protect your assets and have contingency plans in place for your later-life decisions, it is essential to obtain a series of important legal documents, including a Power of Attorney, health directives, wills, and other safeguards.
The experienced elder law attorneys at TuckerAllen specialize in affordable smart solutions for wills, trusts, Power of Attorney documents, and other essential aspects of estate plans, including long-term provisions for special-needs adults.
TuckerAllen also offers complimentary educational webinars, where we explain a range of estate plan options and asset protection programs, all in terms that are easy to understand.