Senior living: Stroke risks and prevention for seniors

By Dr. Nima Ramezan-Arab,

Contributing Writer 

As you age, your chances of having a stroke increase, almost doubling every 10 years after age 55.

People older than 65 comprise about two-thirds of hospitalized stroke cases. For people who are at least 80 years old, atrial fibrillation, or AFib, can be the direct cause of a stroke. AFib, in fact, causes about one in seven strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nima Ramezan-Arab, M.D., medical director, MemorialCare Neuroscience Institute, Long Beach Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of MemorialCare)

AFib can increase the chance of a blood clot forming in the heart; the clot can then travel to the brain, leading to either an ischemic stroke or a transient ischemic attack. Ischemic strokes account for about 85% of all strokes and are caused by narrow arteries that severely reduce the flow of blood to the brain. Transient ischemic attacks, better known as mini strokes, are triggered by clots or other debris breaking free before making it into the blood vessels of the brain.

Although AFib is one of the most-common factors of a stroke, there are many others that can play into people having a stroke. Some factors that can increase the risk of stroke include age, ethnicity, family history and medical history.

Many seniors report these signs and symptoms right before or during a stroke:

Numbness in the face and limbs.
Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes.
Severe headaches.
Difficulty with communication.
Lack of coordination.

If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

There’s a phrase to describe the emergent nature of strokes: “Time lost is brain lost. Every minute counts.” That essentially means the longer you wait to treat a stroke, the more damage is done. A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot in a brain artery or because a brain vessel has burst. As time progresses, so does the stroke — and irreversible brain damage can happen.

A great way to remember the signs of a stroke and acting quickly is the acronym “B.E. F.A.S.T.” Here’s what that means:

Balance: A sudden loss of balance and coordination.
Eyes: Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision.
Face drooping: Face drooping on one side or numbness.
Arm or leg weakness: Numbness, especially on one side of the body.
Speech difficulty: Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
Time: A stroke is a medical emergency, call 911 immediately and note the time of the first symptom.

Using “B.E. F.A.S.T.” can help save yours or a loved one’s life.

Acting fast is critical when a stroke hits, but you can also work to prevent one from happening. About 80% of strokes are preventable.

By speaking with your doctor, you can work out a health plan that will lower your risk of having an ischemic stroke or mini stroke.

Some additional ways you can help lower your risk of a stroke as you get older include:

Exercising regularly, such as by walking around the block or stretching at home; you can also check withyour local senior center to see what exercise classes or activities they offer.
Monitoring your weight.
Eating healthy.
Avoiding alcohol and nicotine, since they directly affect the brain and nervous system.
Controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Having quality sleep and treating sleep apnea, both of which are important factors to track.

These are just some of the ways to help lower your risk of having a stroke. Leading an overall healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of stroke, along with having an open and honest line of communication with your doctor regarding your health.

While no one plans on having a stroke, but sometimes one will occur — even if you happen to take every precaution. So if you or a loved one happen to experience a stroke, it’s important to be fast.

Dr. Nima Ramezan-Arab is the current medical director of the Neuroscience and Stroke Program at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and the MemorialCare Neuroscience Institute. He is routinely involved in working to improve the neuroscience program and patient care in the hospital. He has a special interest in stroke and epilepsy, with emphasis on critical care management of these neurologic disorders. 

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