Last Updated: May 28, 2024

May is American Stroke Month, recognized by the American Stroke Association. While it may seem that strokes are only relevant for seniors, strokes can happen to anyone at any age. 

Having one stroke puts you at a higher risk of having another. That is why knowing the warning signs of a stroke, as well as prevention tactics, is so important for people of all ages. Being informed about strokes is not just useful; it can actually save a life.

What is a Stroke?

stroke awareness

A stroke is the brain’s version of a heart attack. Strokes occur when there is an issue with blood flow getting to the brain, whether it be due to a blockage of blood vessels or bleeding in the brain.  

There are two main types of strokes:

  1. Ischemic stroke – An ischemic stroke is when blood supply to a portion of the brain is blocked or reduced, according to the Mayo Clinic. This occurrence prevents brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients, causing brain cells to die within minutes.
  2. Hemorrhagic stroke – A hemorrhagic stroke is another type of stroke during which a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts, causing the brain to bleed. This bleeding increases pressure on brain cells and leads to damage.

Strokes are medical emergencies and require immediate medical attention. Once someone has one stroke, their likelihood of having another increases significantly.

Continue reading to learn the warning signs of a stroke and help prevent brain damage and other complications.

What are the Warning Signs of a Stroke (F.A.S.T.)?

stroke warning signs

The warning signs of a stroke are abbreviated as F.A.S.T. – emphasizing the importance of acting “fast” upon noticing a warning sign. 

When you notice a stroke warning sign, it is imperative to act quickly and call 911. Doing so may be the difference between recovery or long-term disability; survival or even death.

Knowing F.A.S.T. Can Save a Life

  • F = Face Drooping – When one side of the face droops or is numb; or, when instructed to smile, the smile is uneven.
  • A = Arm Weakness – When one arm is weak or numb, or if one arm drifts downwards when asked to raise both arms.
  • S = Speech Difficulty When speech is slurred.
  • T = Time to Call 911 – Every minute counts with a stroke. Call 911 immediately if one of these warning signs is present, and note the time the symptoms began.

Other Stroke Symptoms

Along with F.A.S.T., some additional warning signs of a stroke to look out for include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg – especially only on one side of the body
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Are Stroke Symptoms Different for Men and Women?

arm weakness stroke

Most stroke symptoms are similar for men and women, especially face drooping, arm weakness, trouble with speech, difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes, and balance difficulties. 

However, women may also experience additional symptoms of a stroke, including:

  • General weakness
  • Disorientation, confusion, or memory issues
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

Some of these additional stroke symptoms for women can be subtle enough to miss or not take seriously. However, doing so can delay time-sensitive or even lifesaving treatments.

This is especially important for women, who are statistically more likely to die from a stroke than men.

What Causes Strokes?

stroke xray

The two main causes of strokes are 1) a blocked artery in the brain, or 2) the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel in the brain. Some people may have only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Continue reading to learn about TIAs.

Cause of Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes, the most common kind of stroke, are caused by a blocked or narrowed artery in the brain, reducing blood flow. 

Blocked or narrowed blood vessels are often caused by fatty deposits that build up in blood vessels. They can also be caused by blood clots or other debris that travel through the bloodstream, usually from the heart. 

An ischemic stroke occurs when fatty deposits, blood clots or other debris become lodged in the brain’s blood vessels.

Cause of Hemorrhagic Strokes

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by the leaking or rupturing of a blood vessel in the brain. Bleeding inside the brain, known as brain hemorrhaging, can be caused by many conditions that affect the blood vessels, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Overtreatment with blood thinners
  • Bulges at weak spots in the blood vessel walls, or aneurysms
  • Head trauma
  • Protein deposits in blood vessel walls that cause weakness in the vessel wall, known as cerebral amyloid angiopathy
  • Ischemic stroke causing a brain hemorrhage

Another less common cause of bleeding in the brain is the rupturing of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), or an irregular tangle of thin-walled blood vessels.

What is a Warning Stroke?

call 911 for stroke warning sign

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a warning stroke, commonly referred to as a mini-stroke, caused by a temporary decrease in blood supply to part of the brain. 

TIAs are associated with additional TIAs and future full-blown strokes. TIAs occur before about 15% of strokes; thus, early intervention after a TIA is crucial.

Most symptoms of a TIA only last a few minutes up to 24 hours, causing them to often be dismissed or brushed off. Remember the F.A.S.T. warning signs to help identify a TIA and call for help immediately.

How Common are Strokes?

Strokes are very common. In fact, 700,000 people have new or recurrent strokes every year.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, strokes rank second among the top causes of death worldwide. In the U.S., strokes are the 5th highest cause of death. Strokes are also the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

In Florida, stroke is also a leading cause of death – especially due to its large senior population of over 4.6 million Florida seniors.

What are the Risk Factors of a Stroke?

There are many factors that can increase the risk of stroke. Some factors associated with a higher risk of stroke include:

  • Age — People aged 55 or older, especially seniors, have a higher risk of stroke than younger people.
  • Race or ethnicity — African American and Hispanic people have a higher risk of stroke than other races or ethnicities.
  • Sex — Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. When women have strokes, they are usually older. Women are also more likely than men to die of strokes.
  • Hormones — Birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen can increase risk of stroke.

Some lifestyle risk factors for strokes that can be treatable include:

In addition, medical risk factors for strokes are as follows:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular diseases like heart failure, heart defects, heart infection or irregular heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation
  • Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack
  • COVID-19 infection

What are the Complications of a Stroke?

A stroke can lead to temporary or permanent disabilities, or even death, depending on how long the brain lacks blood flow and which part is impacted. Some possible complications of a stroke are as follows:

  • Loss of muscle movement, or paralysis Someone who suffers from a stroke may become paralyzed on one side of their body. Or, they may lose control of certain muscles, including on one side of the face or one arm.
  • Trouble speaking or swallowing A stroke can impact the muscles in the mouth and throat, making it challenging to speak clearly, swallow or eat. Someone who suffers from a stroke may also have trouble with language – specifically speaking or understanding speech, reading or writing.
  • Memory loss or trouble thinking – Many individuals who have had strokes experience some memory loss. Others may have trouble with thinking, reasoning, judgment and comprehension.
  • Emotional symptoms – People who have suffered from strokes may have difficulty with emotional control. Depression and anxiety may also be present.
  • Pain – Pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation may be present after a stroke.
  • Behavioral changes – Those who have had strokes may become withdrawn or need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), like grooming, and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) like managing medication and completing household chores.

Stroke Rehabilitation

nurse helping senior woman after stroke

Stroke rehabilitation is a significant part of recovery after a stroke occurs. Stroke rehabilitation involves recovering or adapting to the changes in the brain, including helping someone regain abilities they had before the stroke. Stroke rehabilitation can include the following types of therapy:

  • Speech therapy: Helps patients regain skills related to language, speaking, and controlling muscles that help with breathing, eating, drinking, and swallowing.
  • Physical therapy: Helps patients improve or regain balance, muscle strength, and the ability to use their hands, arms, feet and legs.
  • Occupational therapy: Helps retrain the brain to complete activities of daily living and improve hand movements and muscle control.
  • Cognitive therapy: Helps patients who are experiencing problems with memory, focus or concentration.

Other alternative therapies are available to seniors, as well, especially in assisted living facilities, memory care communities, and skilled nursing facilities. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider.

How to Prevent a Stroke

checking high blood pressure for stroke prevention

Strokes are generally unpredictable, but there are steps you can take in effort to prevent them. Your doctor can help you determine your personal risk factors and make a plan for healthy lifestyle changes.

If you have already had a stroke, these actions might help prevent you from having another stroke. If you have had a TIA, these measures can help reduce your risk of a stroke in the future. 

Lifestyle Recommendations to Prevent Stroke

Many strategies for preventing strokes are the same as strategies to prevent other diseases like heart disease or dementia. In general, healthy lifestyle recommendations to reduce the risk of a stroke include:

  • Controlling high blood pressure, or hypertension
  • Lowering the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet
  • Refraining from tobacco use
  • Managing diabetes 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight 
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) 
  • Avoiding illicit drugs 

Medicines to Prevent Stroke 

Someone who has already had an ischemic stroke may need medicines to help lower the risk of having another stroke. One way to accomplish this is through medications, including: 

  • Antiplatelet drugs – Antiplatelet medications, such as aspirin, make blood cells less sticky and reduce the risk of clotting. Different kinds of antiplatelet medicines are available specifically for people who have had a minor stroke or TIA.  
  • Anticoagulants, or blood thinning medications – These medicines reduce blood clotting in the body. Some blood thinners, like Heparin, are fast acting and used short-term in the hospital. Others, like Jantoven, are slower acting and can be used over time. Newer blood-thinning medications exist for preventing strokes in people with a high risk.

Be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new medications, especially because some have side effects or require blood tests.

Stroke Awareness Month

It is imperative to be informed about the warning signs of a stroke, as well as ways to lower your risk of having a stroke. By having this knowledge and acting quickly, you can improve the outcome of a stroke – and maybe even save a life.

Stroke Care for Florida Seniors

nurse advising on assisted living after stroke

When a loved one has a stroke, it can be difficult to know what to do next. They may require home health care, or their next best step might be moving to an assisted living community.

But how can you determine the right path forward?

Consult an expert from Florida Senior Consulting Advisors. We offer no-cost senior living guidance for seniors in all situations, including those with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or who have experienced a stroke.

We will make sure your loved one is in excellent hands after experiencing a stroke or other medical conditions.

For a free consultation with one of our expert senior advisors, call (800) 969-7176, or visit SeniorConsultingAdvisor.com.

Senior living on your terms. The choice should be yours.

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176