Over the summer, families often spend more leisure time together. It’s also a great opportunity to tune into any subtle changes that may be occurring in older family members.
For me, Memorial Weekend was memorable in that regard. At a family cookout, a cousin of mine was simply not himself. He was unusually quiet and not his warm engaging self. His brother noticed the unusual behavior but, since he didn’t complain about anything that day, his brother said nothing. When my cousin returned to work, it was reported that he could not communicate properly, organize his thoughts, find the appropriate words or type on his keyboard. The following day, a visit to his primary care physician and a CAT scan revealed the startling truth: he had a STROKE!
On the surface, this 68 year-old man appeared to be a low risk for stroke. His physical history was negative with the exception of high cholesterol (controlled by a statin drug that he did not take regularly) and family history. He had no motor problems, drooping, or one-sided weakness. He was the picture of health. He is a non-smoker, falls within a healthy weight range and he lives a low-risk lifestyle. This health crisis falls under the category of “anything can happen to anyone.”
My cousin waited two days before reporting his problems. Why? He probably couldn’t believe it himself. Does anyone else know a man who denies that anything is wrong? It was only after he was unable to function in the workplace that he told his wife and she initiated medical attention.
A Few Facts About Strokes
When an individual suffers a stroke, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Often the difference between making a full recovery and permanent disability is getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. During a stroke, the brain is not getting the blood it needs. It is having a catastrophic failure, similar to a heart attack, only in the brain instead of the heart.
Types of Strokes:
- Ischemic Stroke is caused by a blood clot. Fatty deposits in the blood cause clots to form. It can be caused by a heart arrhythmia, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation. Clots break off, travel and get stuck in an artery that is narrowed due to arteriosclerosis. The narrowing cuts the blood off and brain tissue dies.
- Hemorrhagic Stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain.
- Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is typically referred to as a “mini-stroke” from a temporary blockage. It is a warning sign about possible things to come and does not cause permanent damage.
STROKE WARNING SIGNS:
- Numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side
- Confusion or trouble understanding what people are saying
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes
- Trouble walking or staying balanced
- Severe headache
The National Stroke Foundation has compiled The FAST Test to detect a stroke:
- Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange? Observe if they can speak clearly, find the words they are looking for and do not appear confused with halted speech (my cousin’s experience).
- Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Do not ignore any of these symptoms; even one of them is unacceptable and could indicate a stroke. CALL 9-1-1!
The following link shows a stroke in progress and a woman’s self diagnosis:
My Family Member
He was lucky! Although his stroke was not diagnosed for two days, he is improving. His difficulties continue to resolve. His neurosurgeon has recommended a medication regimen consisting of a statin drug, Plavix, and baby aspirin. Surgery is not recommended at this time. That was a relief!
Life will never be the same! The arteriosclerosis in his brain keeps him at risk. With lifestyle adjustments and medication, he has an 80% chance of being okay.
He was very lucky and now knows there is a potentially dangerous situation in his blood vessels. He is fortunate that his stroke was not more severe and that he remains able to lead the life he loves!
Don’t let this happen to you or someone you love. Pay attention, take action, and make the summer months a time of family fun and celebration. Strokes can happen to people at any age. Pay attention to changes in behavior in those you love!
Beverly Bernstein Joie, MS
Founder and President, Complete Care Strategies