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.
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.
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:
Other symptoms of stroke include:
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.
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.
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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.”
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:
Help your loved one lower their risk of having another stroke by reminding them to: