According to the National Institutes of Health, stroke is the number one cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in aging Americans. While very much true, such statistics can lead seniors down an endless rabbit hole of unnecessary and excessive anxiety.
Jan Olson, Fitness and Living Well Manager of Paradise Valley Estates believes stroke — and one’s risk of having one — is part of a larger discussion that’s best between seniors and the primary care physician who understands their unique health history and lifestyle. “Seniors should not worry about their risk of having a stroke unless they have risk factors,” cautions Jan.
Decades of research have identified a number of factors that, when properly controlled, can reduce the likelihood of suffering a stroke. “Strokes can be prevented,” says Paradise Valley Estates’ Resident Services Manager Brenda Tibbet, RN. “Most strokes are caused by narrowing of brain blood vessels because of obesity, high blood pressure and/or diabetes. By preventing these three diseases, we can keep the blood flowing freely and eliminate the narrowing of the vessels.”
Here are seven ways you can stop worrying and actively lower your stroke risk today.
1. Monitor and Treat High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, puts a strain on your blood vessels and increases your risk of having a stroke. Your goal should be a blood pressure reading that’s as close to 120/80 as possible.
Hypertension doesn’t have telltale symptoms so regular check-ups are vital. If your readings are high, your doctor can suggest treatments that range from cutting back on salt, increasing your intake of healthy foods, and taking medication.
2. Recognize the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
If you have a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation (or Afib), you’re more likely to have a stroke. The problem is many people with Afib are unaware they have the deadly condition.
If you’re over 40 and have experienced heart palpitations, dizziness, or a pounding feeling in your chest, you could have afib. This is a serious condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible. Blood thinning medication and electrical stimulation of the heart are two effective treatments for Afib.
3. Manage High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is partially within your control. Elevated cholesterol can lead to plaque deposits in your arteries. A deposit, which obstructs normal blood flow, can lead to a stroke.
Maintaining a healthy weight, reducing saturated fat intake, and exercising regularly all help combat high cholesterol. Low-fat and fiber-rich foods are great menu choices. Have your lipids checked regularly and follow your doctor’s recommendations if you have high cholesterol.
4. Control Diabetes and Blood Sugar
People with diabetes are vulnerable to many health complications — including stroke — and must pay special attention to the health of their eyes, feet and teeth. Exercise and proper diet are crucial for those with blood sugar problems.
Medication is often prescribed to keep blood sugar levels in check and monitoring and controlling diabetes is critical to health and wellbeing. Those who suffer a stroke when their blood sugar level is high can experience more damage than if their blood sugar level had been normal.
5. Establish Healthy Habits
A nutritious diet and regular exercise routine both lower your stroke risk. Eat a varied diet of ample fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains to maintain and improve your overall health. Make time to exercise frequently, even if it’s just a regular walking routine. Even regular, low-impact exercise can have a measurable effect on your health.
6. Don’t Smoke
Smoking isn’t just a hard habit to break; the physical addiction of nicotine dependency makes it even more difficult to quit. But smoking doubles your risk of having a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association.
People who have quit smoking cite nicotine replacement therapy and other behavior modification techniques of invaluable assistance. Enlist your physician, family members, and friends to assist you with this vital lifestyle change.
7. Know Stroke Symptoms
Some stroke victims suffer needlessly because people simply don’t know what to look for. If you don’t know the signs of a stroke, look for the following:
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, numbness or paralysis
- Difficulty speaking, walking or moving
- Blurred vision
- Sudden, severe headache
It doesn’t matter how mild or short-lived your symptoms seem. If you or anyone around you develops any of the above problems, or any other symptoms that cause concern, Olson says it’s vital to call 9-1-1 right away. “Time is critical and emergency response teams are prepared to handle this crisis,” she says.
What’s more helpful than worrying is to take control of your health. Educate yourself about ways you can limit your chances of having a stroke and then follow through on lowering your risk for the long term. You and your loved ones will be glad you took action.