Senior gentleman touching his head in confusion

10 Signs of a Stroke in Seniors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, more than 795,000 people in the United States suffered a stroke. More than 76% of these episodes were first or new strokes. Stroke risk increases with age — almost doubling every 10 years after age 55 — which is why it’s important to know the signs of stroke in the elderly. People who arrive at the hospital within three hours of their first symptoms often experience less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed care. This blog post will discuss what causes a stroke, the warning signs to watch for, and offer suggestions on stroke prevention.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke, also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or a brain attack, is when blood can’t reach the brain and occurs when a blood vessel is either blocked by a clot or it bursts. Blood vessels carry oxygen to the brain, so without oxygen, brain cells begin to die, causing telltale symptoms. Quickly noticing these symptoms and getting a stroke victim medical help can help minimize damage that happens to the brain.

Here are the three main types of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke: 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes and involve a blood clot that blocks an artery stopping the flow of blood. These strokes are typically a result of fatty buildup and cholesterol in the blood vessels. There are two types of ischemic strokes: embolic and thrombotic. Embolic strokes begin with a blood clot forming in the body (typically in the heart) and making its way through the bloodstream to the brain. Thrombotic strokes are when an artery to the brain is blocked and impacts the flow of blood to the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: These are caused by the sudden and violent breaking of a blood vessel in the brain, called a hemorrhage. High blood pressure and aneurysms (weak spots on blood vessel walls) are among some of the known causes of this type of stroke. 
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): This is sometimes called a “mini-stroke.” It is different from the other types of stroke because blood flow to the brain is blocked for only a short time, usually no more than five minutes. But it’s important to know that a TIA is a warning sign of a future stroke and that it is a medical emergency, just like a major stroke.

10 Early Symptoms of a Stroke in the Elderly

  1. Numbness: Sudden numbness in the face or loss of feeling in the hands, feet, arms, legs or other extremities. It can also feel like a tingling sensation. A stroke can cause numbness on one side of the body while the other side remains fully functional. Your family member may constantly touch, massage or shake the numb areas.
  2. Confusion: Being unable to understand what is happening or losing their ability to think clearly. Your loved one may have a puzzled look on their face, have a hard time focusing, or experience difficulty making decisions.
  3. Difficulty understanding: Difficulty comprehending speech, language or numbers. Your family member may start wrinkling their eyebrows, shaking their head, saying “no,” talking less, or feeling unsteady.
  4. Severe headache: A sudden, severe headache in the head, scalp or neck without any known cause and occurring in people who have no personal history of headaches. You may notice your loved one touching their head or rubbing their temples often and that they have light sensitivity.
  5. Loss of balance: Difficulty standing, walking or moving at all. Your family member may start tripping over nothing or have suddenly become very clumsy. They could also wobble around and hold onto stationary objects to stay upright.
  6. Loss of coordination: Can show up as difficulty standing, walking or moving at all. It may seem as if your loved one has suddenly become clumsy or even appears to be under the influence of alcohol.
  7. Dizziness: Feeling faint, lightheaded, or like the room is spinning. Your family member may have unsteady movement or hold their head.
  8. Vision changes: Blurred vision or trouble with eyesight in one or both eyes. Your loved one may squint or rub their eyes often and may be unable to read.
  9. Trouble speaking: Inability to speak, having slurred or incoherent speech, or using words incorrectly. You may not be able to understand your loved one’s sentences or have trouble talking with them.
  10. Weakness: A lack of strength in the face, arm or leg. Your loved one may want to consistently sit or lay down and has difficulty doing simple tasks.

B.E. F.A.S.T.

To help you remember some of the signs of a stroke, Stroke Awareness uses the acronym “B.E. F.A.S.T,” which stands for: 

Balance lost: Ask your loved one to stand or walk a few steps. If they’re having difficulty, they may be having a stroke.

Eyesight loss: Ask your family member to read a clock near them, a word or a sentence. If they are unable to, they are experiencing eyesight loss and possible stroke.

Face drooping: Ask your loved one to smile. If one side of their face seems to droop or feels numb, they may be having a stroke.

Arm weakness: Have your family member raise both arms over their head. If they have trouble due to muscle weakness or one arm seems to droop, these are strong signs of a stroke.

Speech difficulty: Ask your loved one to repeat a simple sentence, such as their name or comment on the weather. They may have trouble repeating or remembering the words; speech may be slurred and nonsensical.

Time to call 911: If your family member has trouble completing any of these tests or is experiencing any of these symptoms or other unusual signs, it’s time to call 911. Even if you’re not certain your loved one is having a stroke, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Immediate medical care is necessary to help limit the lasting negative effects of a stroke.

Stroke Prevention

Many factors can put seniors at higher risk of having a stroke. While some of these factors are beyond our control, a few lifestyle changes can help minimize the risk of a stroke, including:

  • Eat healthy: Try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being at an unhealthy weight increases stroke risk. Consult your physician to see if you’re maintaining a healthy weight. 
  • Be active: Older adults should participate in physical activity anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours each day. It is important to do this even if the person is in an assisted living community, memory care facility or nursing home.
  • No smoking: Cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of having a stroke.
  • Limit alcohol: Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of having a stroke. If you do drink, try to limit drinks to no more than one or two per day.

A Smart Plan for the Future

As Houston’s premier Life Care community, The Buckingham provides seniors and their families true peace of mind of knowing a full continuum of on-site care is available if ever needed. You can learn more about our community by calling The Buckingham at 713-979-3090.