A friend of mine recently had a mild stroke. It was serious enough to require a brief hospital stay and a period of rehabilitation at a health care facility. With some lifestyle changes she hopes to return home soon, or move to an assisted living facility.
My friend is among the nearly 800,000 Americans, mostly older adults, affected by a stroke each year. Of this number only 10 percent have a nearly full recovery, with another 25 percent recovering with minor impairments. About 15 percent die within hours or days. The remainder, one half of all stroke victims, experience moderate to severe impairments requiring a significant level of care for the rest of their lives.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, significant strides in prevention and intervention have occurred over the past two decades. From 1995 to 2005, the stroke death rate in the U.S. fell by almost 30 percent. The reasons appear to be increased awareness of the warning signs and quick action to seek treatment when a stroke occurs. The National Stroke Association has an easy way to recognize the warnings signs of a possible stroke. Their recommendation is to act “FAST.”
Face – Does the person’s face droop on one side? If you aren’t sure, ask the person to smile to help spot a droop on one side of the face.
Arm – Ask the person to raise their arms. Note if the person has difficulty raising one arm. Does one arm hang limply?
Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase like, “Mary had a little lamb.” Does the person have difficulty forming the words or do they slur the words?
Time – If you see, or personally experience, any of these warning signs call 911 immediately.
Quick action can be a lifesaver. If given within three hours of the first symptoms, there is a “clot-buster’ medication that may reduce the long-term effects for some types of strokes. Other types of treatment are also available, depending on the type of stroke a person has experienced. Remember, the key is quick action. It is always better to make a false alarm trip to the emergency room than to wait several hours to see if the apparent symptoms will go away.
There are a number of excellent websites to visit for more information about the risks, treatment, and care after a stroke, such as the National Stroke Association, and the American Stroke Association.
George Brown is the executive director of Clermont Senior Services.