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Stroke: Is a Full Recovery Possible for Seniors?

Angelike Gaunt
By Angelike GauntMay 13, 2020

Stroke is a leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is that stroke is preventable, and acting fast at the first signs and symptoms of a stroke is key to survival and to a successful recovery.

For Pedro Antaran, an 83-year-old Seattle resident, the stroke came in the morning with little warning. After waking up, he noticed that his right leg felt different. “My leg felt heavy, and I could not lift it,” Pedro says. He then asked his wife to call 911, and soon afterward he was at the hospital.

Antaran’s fast reaction helped ensure an early intervention, which in turn led to a remarkably short stroke recovery. While he may still occasionally have difficulty recalling the names of certain objects, Antaran is back at home, walking without a cane, and easily getting around Seattle four months after his stroke.

How is stroke treated?

Most strokes are caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Medications that dissolve the clot and improve blood flow must be administered within three hours of having a stroke to work effectively.

In some cases, early intervention can reverse the effects of a stroke. Conversely, delayed treatment may result in the death of brain cells, which may cause serious problems with speech, cognitive ability, and basic motor skills. This is why it’s important to call 911 or an ambulance as soon as you notice the first signs and symptoms of a stroke.

When it comes to stroke, getting emergency help as quickly as possible can be the difference between life or death, and a fast or prolonged recovery.

While still in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, emergency professionals ask important questions about symptoms and when exactly they started. This information can help the health care team at the hospital make quicker decisions and initiate treatments faster.

Recognizing signs and symptoms of stroke

Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and call 911 right away if you think your loved one may be having a stroke. The acronym FAST may help:

  • Face drooping. Droopiness or numbness in one side of the face can indicate the beginnings of a stroke. Ask your loved one to smile, and look for any unevenness in their smile.
  • Arm weakness. Ask your loved one to raise both arms above their head and keep them up. Difficulty keeping both arms level is a potential symptom of stroke.
  • Speech Difficulty. Ask your loved one to repeat a simple sentence and listen for slurred speech or the inability to pronounce words, which can indicate the beginnings of a stroke.
  • Time to call 911. If you recognize symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately. A quick reaction can be the difference between a full recovery and a lifetime of disability.

Other symptoms of stroke include:

  • Sudden facial, arm, or leg numbness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble seeing
  • Dizziness or difficulty walking
  • Severe headache

Stroke rehabilitation: Can seniors fully recover?

The goal of rehabilitation after a stroke is to help your loved one regain as much physical and cognitive function as possible. For most patients, recovery from stroke can take six to 12 months of focused, intensive rehab. However, stroke survivors can continue to improve mental, emotional, and physical function even years after starting rehab.

Stroke rehab may include speech, occupational, and physical therapy. Rehab helps those who’ve had a stroke relearn how to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as walking, using the restroom, and other daily functions that allow people to live independently.

Full recovery is the goal, but in instances where it’s not possible, rehab can offer compensatory strategies to help your loved one live as independently as possible. For example, if the stroke has severely limited your loved one’s ability to use their right arm, a therapist might help them learn different techniques to get in and out of bed without the use of that arm.

Where can older adults get after-stroke care?

The type and severity of the stroke will dictate how much rehab your loved one needs and whether they need inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. If they need 24-hour care and intensive therapy, inpatient rehab at a skilled nursing facility or rehab hospital may be the best option, with daily therapy sessions that allow them to fully focus on their recovery.

Some rehabilitation services can be carried out at home through home health services. These services are provided by licensed medical professionals — such as physical, speech, or occupational therapists — who come to your loved one’s home. Home health professionals perform specific tasks ordered by the doctor, such as developing a strength training program or helping with administering medications.

Stroke rehab at an assisted living community in combination with home health services is another option that allows for a certain degree of independence while also providing services like cooking, laundry, and medication management.

Rehabilitation is not an easy process. Stroke survivor Pedro Antaran recalls continuously checking the time for his sessions to be over. “But I learned to endure the exercise,” he says. “Later on, I found out that it’s a very important thing to overcome these little bits of hardships.”

Preventing stroke recurrence in seniors

While it’s always important to remain vigilant about your health after a stroke, it’s vital to take specific steps to prevent a second stroke.

About 25% of those who’ve had a stroke will have a second one within five years, according to the CDC.

Risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as a poor diet or lack of physical activity
  • Overweight and obesity

Help your loved one lower their risk of having another stroke by reminding them to:

  • Keep follow-up medical appointments
  • Take medications as directed by the doctor, including blood thinners such as aspirin
  • Choose healthy meals
  • Talk to their doctor about a plan to stay as active as possible
  • Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Manage diabetes

Angelike Gaunt
Author
Angelike Gaunt
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