When blood flow to the brain is cut off or severely limited, brain tissue is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and brain cells begin to die. This can lead to a medical emergency called a stroke.
A stroke can be a life-altering event for a person and their caregiver.
Time is of the essence when a stroke occurs, so it’s important for caregivers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke and take quick action in order to minimize brain damage and other health complications.
A stroke can be a life-altering event for a person and their caregiver.
My grandmother had a massive stroke that caused the left side of her body to become paralyzed, leaving her bedridden and unable to perform basic bodily functions on her own. Her condition was made even worse when her head struck the bathroom sink as she fell, and by the fact that it took some time before she was found.
Unfortunately, time is not on the side of a stroke victim, so caregivers must know the typical warning signs that tell a stroke is occurring. Take note of when these stroke symptoms or warning signs occur because knowing the length of time you or the person in your care experience them will help guide doctors towards the appropriate stroke treatment plan.
Warning signs of stroke
- Confusion and/or speech problems such as slurring words, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Stroke patients can develop sudden numbness or paralysis of the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body. An easy way to tell if someone is having a stroke is to have them raise both arms over their head at the same time. If they can’t raise one arm, or if one arm begins to fall, they may be having a stroke. If one side of their mouth droops when they try to smile, that is also another sign that a stroke is occurring.
- Vision problems in one or both eyes such as blurred or blackened vision, or seeing double.
- A sudden, severe headache, possibly with vomiting, dizziness, or altered consciousness.
- Loss of balance or coordination including trouble with walking, or stumbling.
It may be difficult to remember all of these stroke signs and symptoms, so if you think someone is having a stroke, remember to think and act fast – use the F.A.S.T. acronym (Face, Arms, Speech, Time):
- Face: Ask the person to smile and look closely to see if one side is drooping
- Arms: See if they can they raise both arms when asked to without one arm drifting downward?
- Speech: Are they able to repeat a simple phrase without slurring their speech or sounding strange?
- Time: Don’t wait to see if more symptoms develop or the existing ones worsen. Call 911 right away and watch the person carefully while you wait for first responders to arrive.
Check out our infographic on stroke symptoms and the F.A.S.T. acronym that you may want to print or share with your friends and family.
See also, our Elizz article on Cargiver Checklist – Planning for an Emergency.
Stroke risk factors
The risk factors for stroke can be broken down into three categories:
- Unavoidable factors
You and the person in your care can lower the risk for stroke by making a few lifestyle changes like:
- Losing weight
- Getting more exercise
- Drinking less alcohol
- Stopping the use of illicit drugs
Medical risk factors may require you to seek your doctor’s advice or treatment in order to lower your risk of stroke, and to manage the conditions they are associated with.
Other stroke risk factors include:
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
- Sleep apnea, which is a chronic condition that disrupts sleep by not allowing enough oxygen through the airway, resulting in shallow breathing or breathing pauses
- Cardiovascular disease
- Atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia that usually requires treatment
What if you or the person in your care have none of the stroke risk factors listed above? Is there still a risk for stroke?
The unfortunate truth is that there are risk factors for stroke that you can’t control. The major risk factors that you can’t change (and may make your risk of stroke become greater) include:
- Your personal or family history of stroke or heart attack - Your risk for stroke increases if any of your immediate family members – parents, siblings, or children – had a stroke before age 65.
- Gender and age - Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55, or post-menopausal women are all at greater risk for heart disease, which increases one’s chances of stroke. Most strokes occur in people over 65, although they can occur at any age.
- Ethnicity – This also plays a factor in strokes. High blood pressure and diabetes are conditions that are prevalent among First Nations, plus African and South Asian populations, placing them at greater risk of heart disease and stroke over other ethnicities.
- A previous mini stroke - If you’ve had a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack your risk of having another stroke is higher.
Stroke victims can experience disabilities that are temporary or permanent, depending on how long their brains were deprived of oxygen and which part of their brain was affected. Some of the complications associated with stroke include:
- Paralysis of one side of the body or loss of muscle movement. Physical therapy may help the stroke patient regain their motor skills that were affected by paralysis.
- Speech problems and difficulty swallowing. A stroke may affect a person’s control over the muscles in their mouth, making it difficult to talk clearly, swallow or eat. Aphasia, otherwise known as difficulty with language, affects the person’s ability to speak or understand speech, read, or write. A speech and language pathologist may help with this issue.
- Loss of cognitive ability. Many stroke patients experience memory loss, difficulty thinking, making judgments, reasoning, and understanding concepts.
- Difficulty controlling emotions or depression.
- Pain and numbness or other strange sensations, such as tingling, in parts of the body that were affected by stroke.
- Central stroke pain or central pain syndrome, which causes sensitivity to temperature changes, especially extreme cold. This complication generally takes several weeks to develop after a stroke but is treatable and may improve over time.
- Changes in behaviour, such as becoming more withdrawn and less social, or more impulsive.
- Changes in abilities such as grooming themselves or performing daily chores.
A stroke can happen to anyone at any time leading to stroke complications and consequences that can be devastating for the person and for his or her family or caregiver.
If you are a caregiver and suspect that the person in your care is having a stroke, remember think F.A.S.T. (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) and act even faster by calling 911.
Are you caring for someone who has suffered from heart disease or stroke?
An Elizz health care professional can help.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.