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American Stroke Month: Caring for a Senior who Suffered from a Stroke

Each year, almost 800,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke and two-thirds stroke-related hospitalizations occur in those over the age of 65. Up to one-fourth of strokes occur in people who have had a previous episode and the chance of stroke doubles every decade after the age of 55.

In honor of American Stroke Month, here are some things you should know that will help you care for a senior recovering from stroke.

About Stroke

Stroke is also known as cerebral infarction and usually occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, depriving the cells of oxygen. Most of the time, blockage is limited to a certain area of the brain which is why stroke has a variety of symptoms – often only on one side.

The longer brain cells are deprived of oxygen, the more likely that damage may be permanent. In some cases, immediate medical treatments may be able to re-establish blood flow and re-oxygenate the brain tissue so that permanent damage will not occur.

Symptoms of stroke vary widely and may include:

  • Sudden numbness or inability to move arms, legs or face, possibly only on one side
  • Sudden loss of ability to speak
  • Sudden confusion
  • Loss of vision, possibly only on one side
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sudden head pain, usually severe

Any symptoms of stroke should be treated as a medical emergency.

Recovery from Stroke

In some cases, damage from stroke will be permanent but some seniors may improve over time and you may be able to help with rehabilitation. In other cases, your senior loved one cannot speak or communicate but your simple presence will be comforting.

Loss of ability to speak does not mean a senior has developed dementia. Many stroke victims maintain the same level of cognition as before the stroke. You should speak to him or her normally with the same level of intelligence as before. You do not need to raise your voice and should treat the patient with respect.

If there seems to be confusion, your senior may be able to focus better if distractions are minimized by turning off the television. Keep conversation limited to one topic at a time, allowing time for him to process thoughts and responses. Stroke victims often do better when visitors are limited to one on one interactions. Whole family visits may be too overwhelming.

Some stroke victims may become frustrated with the new lack of ability. Calmly helping him to refocus and set small goals to achieve. Relaxation practices may help patients to manage frustration and anxiety and many patients will also benefit from support or group therapy. Any signs of depression should be discussed with the patient’s physician so that it does not interfere with rehabilitation.

Personal Care

Patients with stroke damage may have difficulty with everyday personal care issues such as washing the face, brushing the teeth and getting dressed. Some of these activities will require assistance but some modifications may be made allow the patient to function as normally as possible.

  • Clothing should fasten in the front
  • Difficult closures such as buttons or zippers can be replaced with Velcro
  • Pull-over clothing should be avoided and all clothing should be loose-fitting and non-binding
  • Velcro fasteners can be substituted for laces on shoes and shoes that “stick” to the floor should be avoided
  • Occupational therapy tools are available to assist with issues such as putting on socks

Assistance should be offered but may be refused. If the patient can perform a task himself, let him do so even when it takes much longer. In situations where there is risk of a fall, supervision is warranted but do not “take over” unless necessary.

Rehabilitation plans will be set up by the patient’s’ physician but he or she may never return to “normal.” Exercise may help increase blood flow to the brain when the patient is able and may help to prevent further degeneration or additional stroke.

Seniors who have had stroke should be encouraged to discontinue behaviors that increase the risk of another event such as smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease should receive adequate treatment.

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