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Start now to stop Strokes

AGING MATTERS

Concerns about a potential relationship between COVID-19 infections and strokes have encouraged families to have more conversations about this important topic.

While common risk factors include high blood pressure, family history, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, smoking and being overweight, a stroke can happen to a seemingly healthy individual of any age.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Hawaii and is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Recognizing and responding quickly to the signs of stroke in yourself or others can mean the difference between life, disability and even death.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow is blocked to part of the brain. When this happens, the brain doesn’t receive the necessary oxygen and other nutrients which are carried by the blood. As a result, brain cells are damaged or begin to die. For this reason, time is critical to the long-term impact of a stroke.

There are two primary types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. A hemorrhagic stroke is causes by a broken blood vessel that triggers bleeding in the brain. An ischemic stroke results from a narrowed or blocked blood vessel, generally caused by a blood clot. Both interrupt the flow of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells.

What are the signs of a stroke?

The National Stroke Association uses the word “FAST” as a tool for recognizing the signs of a stroke. It is also a reminder to act FAST! If you recognize any of the following signs of stroke in another person, call 911 to determine the quickest way to get treatment. You may be advised to go immediately to the hospital or the 911 dispatcher may send an ambulance.

• F stands for FACE. When one side of the face suddenly droops, this can be a sign of stroke. Ask the person to smile and if there is any facial drooping, call 911 immediately.

• A stands for ARMS. A stroke often impacts one side of the body. If you suspect a stroke, ask the person to raise both arms as if making the letter “T” with their body. If one arm drifts down, this may be a sign they are experiencing a stroke. Call 911 immediately.

• S stands for SPEECH. A stroke can impact someone’s ability to speak clearly. Their speech may be slurred, their words may sound like gibberish, or the wrong words come out of their mouth. Ask your loved one to repeat a simple phrase such as “I like to read” or “I love to eat.” If the repeated words sound slurred or strange in any way, call 911 immediately.

• T stands for TIME. The faster a person gets treatment, the better. Make note of the time your loved one’s first sign appeared. This information will help health care professionals determine their response and treatment plan.

A person may not show all signs of a stroke. If just one of the signs above is present, reach out immediately for emergency services.

What steps reduce the risk of stroke?

Actions that lower the risk of a stroke also lower the risk of other common chronic health conditions. These include exercising regularly, eating a healthy balanced diet and managing blood sugar, blood pressure, weight and cholesterol.

If you aren’t currently exercising regularly, get cleared by your doctor, start small and increase over time. Think about and then write down exercises you enjoy. Choose one you will do this week, set a time and do it. Find a partner who will motivate you. Slowly increase time and/or intensity. The goal is to exercise at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week.

Approach diet in the same way as exercise — methodical and consistent. Identify areas for improvement and choose one to focus on. The list may include drinking more water, having fresh fruits and vegetables easily available, carrying a healthy snack or planning ahead.

And finally, work with a health care professional to identify and address factors that increase your risk of a stroke. This may require a blood test or regular blood pressure checks. Addressing the risk may include a variety of lifestyle choices and medications.

The key to all prevention is consistency. What step will you take this week to lower your risk of stroke?

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.

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