Approximately 800,000 Americans every year suffer from a stroke, and most are aged 65-and-over. There are three major types of strokes that can target elderly individuals: ischemic, hemorrhagic and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Most stroke survivors are forced to live with complications afterwards that include speech disorders, paralysis, blood clots, depression, and chronic headaches. As a family caregiver, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke can be a real difference-maker when every precious second counts. 

What Causes a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or heavily restricted, causing the blood-starved brain cells to begin dying off. As such, a stroke is very much like a heart attack of the brain. And although they target different organs in the body, heart attacks and strokes can be equally devastating and life changing events.

Stroke Risk Factors

A stroke is more likely to occur in an older individual with one or more of these risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
  • Previous transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Heart disease

Strokes disproportionately target those aged 65+, and older women in general are more likely to die from a stroke than men of the same age. With respect to race, African Americans have twice the risk of experiencing a stroke as do white individuals.

Warning Signs of a Stroke

A stroke can target various parts of the brain that control different motor skills, including the right hemisphere, left hemisphere, brain stem or cerebellum. As an informal caregiver these are the classic stroke warning signs and symptoms to watch for in your loved one:

  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Numbness in the face or limbs that oftentimes affects only one side of the body
  • Sudden, intense headache
  • Difficulty saying specific words, slurred speech, or inability to speak in general
  • Loss of coordination

In addition to the symptoms listed above, women may also experience:

  • Spontaneous chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden nausea
  • Heart palpitations

How to Diagnose a Stroke

During moments of confusion remembering all the primary signs of a stroke isn’t easy. If you are concerned that your loved one may be having a stroke, the FAST acronym can help you make a definitive diagnosis:

  • Face: While paying close attention to their mouth and fac