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Identify stroke early to limit its consequences. Here's the signs.

By Peter DiMaria

October 29 is World Stroke Day. It is important to remind family caregivers providing home care for the elderly in their own homes to be aware of the signs of stroke, to identify them and to seek medical help as early as possible.

The earlier the patient receives medical attention, the better is the chance of recovery.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). It is the fifth leading cause of death and is a major cause of serious disability for American adults. About 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, making it a major source of in-home senior care costs.

Ischemic strokes, when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked, account for almost nine in 10 strokes in the United States according to the American Stroke Association. Hemorrhagic stroke, the breaking of a weakened blood vessel, is less common but also a tremendous risk to the patient.

Strokes can happen at any age and to people in any physical condition, but the risk does increase the older we get.

Strokes can be prevented and, once they happen, may have their consequences treated. That's why it is important to spread information about healthy habits to prevent blood clots that cause strokes.

Strokes consequences and damage can also be limited by early detection. Immediate action can be the difference between life and death, serious impairment or a normal life.

It is important to identify the symptoms early and take immediate action.

That’s why the Stroke Association and the medical community developed the F.A.S.T. response system.

This acronym is a way for caregivers to remember the signs of a stroke and a reminder of the urgency in getting medical attention right away

F – Face: Is one side of the face drooping more than the other? Does it move in the same way as the opposite side? Ask the person to smile and notice if their expression is even.

A – Arms: Is one arm suddenly weaker than the other? Is it numb for no apparent reason? As the person raises their arms holding a small weight, or even empty-handed, if one arm starts to drop before the other, this may be a sign of weakness.

S – Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Can they complete ideas and repeat simple phrases? Ask the person a simple but very specific question like, “Can you tell me what color your shirt is?”

T – Time: If any of these symptoms are present, it’s time to act now. In most situations, your best option is to call 911. Explain that you have a person suffering an apparent stroke, share your address and answer the dispatcher’s questions as calmly and clearly as you can. Also note as closely as possible when you first noticed the symptoms. This timing can be very important in the treatment the medical professionals administer.

The awareness about these saved the life of Gerry, a 50-ish professional with an active lifestyle. Gerry was chatting with a co-worker in the parking lot outside his office when his companion suddenly began leading him to his own car. Several times, Gerry protested that he had somewhere to go, but his colleague persisted.

Gerry was fortunate that day because his friend had the training and awareness to recognize the signs of a stroke. While Gerry thought he was having a normal conversation, his friend noticed the suddenly slurred speech and inability to properly express complete thoughts that are symptoms of stroke and should never be taken lightly.

Gerry’s condition turned out to be a TIA, or transient ischemic attack. It’s a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain or to some part of it. Usually, the clot dissolves or breaks loose before any permanent damage is done, and this was his case. But among the various names they’re called, the most important one to remember is “Warning Stroke.” He’s following a regular schedule of diet and exercise now, and he’s checking his blood pressure regularly.

He’s also learned, as we all should remember, the potentially lifesaving value of knowing the signs and how to react.

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