In May 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 5975 establishing National Stroke Awareness Month. There’s good reason for us to be well-informed about strokes. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), leading causes of stroke are

  • high blood pressure,
  • high cholesterol,
  • diabetes, and
  • smoking,

and one in three American adults has at least one of these conditions or smokes!

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) reports that stroke is the most common cause of adult disability, and the fourth leading killer in the United States. Approximately 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year.

The word “stroke” scares us, and rightfully so. A stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack,” and it happens when the blood supply to part of our brain is blocked (an ischemic stroke) or a blood vessel in our brain bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke), and parts of the brain are damaged or die. In March we discussed why the brain is a big deal, but the CDC provides this concise synopsis we’ll share this month:

The brain controls our movements, stores our memories, and is the source of our thoughts, emotions, and language. The brain also controls many functions of the body, like breathing and digestion.

To limit your risk of stroke, the CDC advises controlling high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes and, of course, quitting smoking (better yet, never starting). Up to eighty percent of strokes could be prevented if we made healthy lifestyle changes and worked with our healthcare providers to address conditions that increase our stroke risk.

Healthy living includes a diet that limits salt, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol, but includes plenty of fiber, fruits, and vegetables. As alcohol raises blood pressure, men should have no more than two drinks per day; women, no more than one. Determine and maintain a healthy weight. Engage in one hundred fifty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, each week.

Aspirin, according to the CDC, may help lower your stroke risk. Discuss with your physician whether an aspirin regimen is right for you. However, if you believe you are having a stroke, do not take aspirin, as it can make some types of stroke worse.

There are, however, stroke risk factors that you cannot control. According to the American Stroke Association, they include

  • age – the likelihood of stroke increases with age;
  • family history – if your parent, grandparent, or sibling has had a stroke, particularly before age 65, your risk may be greater;
  • race – African Americans’ risk of death from stroke is much higher than Caucasians’;
  • gender – women have more strokes than men (one in five women has a stroke), and stroke kills more women than men;
  • prior stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA, or temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain), or heart attack – all increase stroke risk.

Because women are particularly impacted by stroke, it may be helpful to review the information provided on the Office of Women’s Health website, located here

A stroke requires quick, emergency intervention to limit brain damage. That’s why the FAST acronym was developed, to identify stroke symptoms and prompt immediate action.

  • Face drooping or numb;
  • Arm weak or numb;
  • Speech slurred or hard to understand;
  • Time to call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital, even if the symptoms go away.

Other symptoms are sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body, confusion, difficulty seeing, trouble walking, or severe headache.

It’s important to emphasize that strokes are medical emergencies, and the coronavirus pandemic should not discourage stroke victims from seeking treatment at hospitals!

If you experience a stroke, the Mayo Clinic relates, rehabilitation commonly begins as soon as twenty-four to forty-eight hours later, when you are in the hospital. You are more likely to regain abilities and skills the sooner you begin rehabilitation. Some stroke patients recover quickly, but most require long-term rehabilitation. It depends, naturally, on the severity of the stroke.

Fortunately, the human body has some amazing recovery capabilities! One is termed neuroplasticity, which means that the brain possesses the ability to rewire or reorganize itself after injury or damage. The goal of stroke rehabilitation is relearning skills that were lost when a stroke impacted part of the brain, so that independence is regained and quality of life is improved.

Before leaving the hospital, the stroke patient, the patient’s care team, and the patient’s family formulate a rehabilitation plan. Rehabilitation may occur at in-patient or out-patient facility or at home, and that choice depends upon patient needs, insurance coverage, and convenience.

NINDS observes that home-based treatment “gives people the advantage of practicing skills and developing compensatory strategies in the context of their own living environment.”  NINDS also advises that the largest stroke rehabilitation study conducted in the United States concluded that “intensive balance and strength rehabilitation in the home was equivalent to treadmill training at a rehabilitation facility in improving walking.”

Panhandle Home Health (PHH) can provide a comprehensive home-based program that offers greater flexibility than the other options.

  • PHH physical therapists can furnish the motor-skill exercises required to improve muscle strength and coordination and range of motion. It’s also essential to learn how to properly use mobility aids, like walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and ankle braces, and PHH has great teachers.
  • Our speech therapists focus on retraining the muscles used in swallowing and speaking and providing instruction on alternative methods of safely swallowing and communicating.
  • During recovery from stroke, PHH’s occupational therapists help a patient relearn daily living skills, like bathing, shoe tying, and dressing, and can make recommendations on adapting the home environment to facilitate safety and healing.
  • Our staff also includes a social worker, who can provide the information, resources, and – most importantly – encouragement that patients and their families need to deal with the emotional challenges stroke often presents.

Life frequently throws us curves, and sometimes we can’t prevent distressing things from happening. Remember, though, to first think FAST, then PHH. We’re prepared to partner with you to help you reclaim your independence and rebuild a better quality of life. It’s just smart to have Panhandle Home Health on your recovery team!

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