The risk of stroke is fairly common among aging adults over age 65 and the risks increase as we age. Approximately two-thirds of all strokes occur in patients age 65 or older. Strokes can be debilitating and their short-term and long-term consequences can result in ongoing disabilities.
The estimates that up to 80 percent of all strokes can be preventable, so knowing the stroke risk factors for stroke is important for those taking care of elderly individuals. The best way to protect yourself or your loved one is to know personal risks and how to manage them.
There are several stroke risk factors that seniors can control through either appropriate medical attention or changes in individual lifestyle. These factors include:
- Elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure – a consistent level of 140/90 or higher – is strongly associated with stroke. People with high blood pressure are one and a half times more likely to suffer from stroke than are those who maintain normal (120/80) blood pressure levels. Appropriate medication, along with a low-fat, low-salt diet that includes many fruits and vegetables can help reduce blood pressure levels.
- Atrial fibrillation. This is a kind of irregular heartbeat that allows blood to pool in the heart. Medical treatment can help control this issue; regular monthly pulse screenings can help seniors monitor this condition.
- High cholesterol. Elevated “bad” cholesterol levels and decreased “good” cholesterol levels increase the likelihood of stroke. Diet, exercise, and weight control can help individuals maintain appropriate cholesterol levels, as can medical treatments as necessary.
- Diabetes. Keeping diabetes well monitored and managed is essential for decreasing the likelihood of stroke.
- Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes plaque to build up in the arteries, narrowing them and sometimes blocking them, thus making blood flow difficult and causing clots. Diet, exercise, weight control, and medical treatments can help treat atherosclerosis.
- Circulation issues. A number of factors, such as atherosclerosis, sickle cell disease, and severe anemia can cause circulation issues. To help prevent stroke, work with a doctor to determine the best method for managing these conditions.
- Smoking. Stopping smoking is essential for overall good health but is especially recommended for those seeking to lower their risk of stroke.
- Alcohol. Inappropriate alcohol use can increase the risk of stroke; individuals should consult their personal doctors to determine what amount of alcohol would be considered “risky” for them.
- Physical Inactivity. Engaging in moderate exercise five or more times a week can significantly lower the risk of stroke. There is a wide range of what constitutes exercise, but most agree that walking briskly for half an hour, playing golf, dancing, and yoga are acceptable forms of exercise. Those taking care of elderly individuals should talk with their doctors before undertaking any new exercise routines.
- Being overweight. Controlling weight via a diet that is low in salt and fat and high in fruits and vegetables can help keep stroke risk low. As with exercise, consult with a doctor before making any modifications in diet.
If you think someone you know is suffering from a stroke, think FAST:
A-ARMS: Ask the person to raise their arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S-SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T-TIME: If you observe any of these possible signs, act fast and dial 9-1-1 immediately.
Knowing the risk factors and taking steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle may go a long way in stroke prevention. Consult your doctor to determine evaluate your lifestyle and current risk factors.