The Link Between Stroke and Dementia

The Link Between Stroke and Dementia

Having a stroke is mentally and physically debilitating. Couple that with the long recovery that many elderly adults experience after a stroke and it makes sense that seniors want to do everything they can to protect themselves from this serious medical emergency.

But even after recovery from a stroke, there could be more challenges on the horizon. Those who suffer a stroke are at greater risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in the future.

The Link Between Strokes and Cognitive Decline

The American Heart Association, in conjunction with the American Stroke Association, recently published a sobering report that links strokes to cognitive impairment. Specifically, the studies found that more than half of adults in the United States who had a stroke developed cognitive problems within one year, and about one in three of those who suffered a stroke go on to develop dementia within five years.

When a stroke occurs, the brain can suffer significant damage. Some of that damage might be bad enough that cognitive decline starts immediately following the stroke. Up to 60% of stroke survivors experience cognitive issues within the first year, often within the first two weeks after a stroke. For many, the impairment isn’t severe enough to rise to the level of a dementia diagnosis but still affects their quality of life.

The good news is that one in five of those who do experience cognitive decline as a result of a stroke will fully recover their cognitive function within six months.

However, the study suggests that some people might initially get better after a stroke but in time, cognitive problems will increase as a result of the damage the brain sustained.

That’s why it’s so important for stroke survivors to get help fast and then to be evaluated on a regular basis. “Stroke survivors should be systematically evaluated for cognitive impairment so that treatment may begin as soon as possible after signs appear,” says Dr. Nada El Husseini, an associate professor of neurology at Duke University Medical Center, as published in the journal Stroke. Fast medical treatment is needed after a stroke, in order to minimize damage to the brain. A medical alert system for seniors could literally save a life and preserve brain function by summoning help quickly.

Other Problems After a Stroke

According to the American Heart Association journal Circulation, about 9.4 million adults in the United States have had a stroke. This figure includes ischemic strokes, which are the most common and are caused by a blood clot in the vessels of the brain; 87% of all strokes fall into this category. The rest are hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. 

The problems that occur within weeks of a stroke can include trouble with memory, language, concentration, and thinking. Physical problems might include sleep issues, behavioral or personality changes, depression, anxiety, and physical disabilities that make mobility difficult. All of these problems can deeply affect a person’s ability to drive, work, or perform the activities of daily living. A stroke can deeply affect a person’s independence.

In addition, the underlying problems that led to the stroke, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, could still be present and might pose a further problem if not fully controlled. And therein comes a catch-22: high blood pressure can be controlled with medication, but stroke survivors might have trouble with memory, which means they may not remember to take that medication. That’s why it’s so important for those who have suffered a stroke to have solid support from family and friends to avoid further medical complications.

There are things you can do to protect yourself. If you are suffering from the underlying conditions that lead to stroke, have already had a stroke, or are suffering from difficulties that a stroke brought into your life, you can use medical alert technology – specifically, a button alarm to use in the event of emergency – to ensure you can always get help immediately.

Who Is at Higher Risk of Stroke?

It’s important to remember that anyone is at risk of having a stroke. You never know what is truly happening in the brain and the blood vessels that feed it. However, there are some conditions that make a stroke much more likely.

·        If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, irregular heartbeats, or any other heart issue, your odds of developing blood clots and subsequently suffering a stroke are significantly increased. Get your heart checked on a regular basis.

·        Some chronic conditions that affect the blood vessels, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, put you at greater risk. It’s very important to take medications to keep those conditions under control.

·        Diabetes, type 1 and type 2, can affect your odds of stroke as these conditions affect all systems in the body, including the blood vessels. Good blood glucose control is the key to staying healthy.

·        Some lifestyle factors, such as being obese, living a sedentary lifestyle, using drugs or alcohol, or smoking can all affect your odds of having a stroke. Changing those factors, such as stopping smoking, losing weight, and being more active can all help reduce your risk of stroke.

How to Spot a Stroke

Getting quick treatment is absolutely essential to ensuring that the brain suffers as little damage as possible in the aftermath of a stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke lists the following as signs to look out for:

·        Numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body. This usually occurs in the face, arm, or leg, and sometimes all three.

·        Confusion, trouble speaking, and difficulty understanding what others are saying to you.

·        Vision changes, such as double vision, or being unable to see out of one eye.

·        Trouble with walking, including a loss of balance, a lack of coordination, dizziness, and other problems that make it difficult to stay upright.

·        Severe headache that has no clear cause.

A stroke comes on very suddenly. You might be fine one moment and the next, you are dealing with the symptoms listed above. The headache comes on like a thunderclap out of the blue, the vision changes happen very quickly, and you might be walking normally only to fall down with no warning.

Other symptoms might be present too, such as nausea and vomiting, disorientation, and sudden memory loss. These are not the most common, but they do sometimes occur.

Because of the deep confusion a stroke can bring, a person who suffers from one might not realize what is happening to them. To be sure of what is going on, bystanders can look for these signs, remembered by the acronym “FAST.”

·        F – FACE: Ask the person to smile at you. Is their smile even? Or does one side of the face droop down?

·        A – ARMS: Ask them to raise their arms. Can they do so? If they do, does one arm drift downward or seem difficult to keep raised?

·        S – SPEECH: Talk with the person. Ask them to repeat a phrase for you. Do they remember the phrase? Is their speech slurred or difficult to understand?

·        T – TIME: Calling emergency services right away is absolutely crucial. During a stroke, seconds count. Make note of the time and call 911; or if the person has a medical alert necklace, press the panic button to get help on the way.

What If the Symptoms Disappear?

You might notice all the symptoms of a stroke and be terrified of what is happening. But then – suddenly, with just as little warning – the symptoms go away. You might be left feeling shaky and confused, but otherwise, you feel just fine. What happened?

That was likely a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Known as a “mini stroke,” a TIA brings symptoms that last for a few moments and then disappear. And while it might be very tempting to write off what happened as not too serious, the truth is that a TIA should be treated with just as much urgency as a more powerful stroke. A TIA is often a harbinger of a more serious stroke and can be considered a big, flashing, neon, warning sign: you are at risk for something much worse, so get help right away.

And that doesn’t mean making an appointment with the doctor for a few weeks from now. It means stopping whatever you were doing and heading to the emergency department.

Protecting Yourself from the Serious Consequences of Stroke

If you have a stroke, getting help fast is the key to a successful recovery. The less damage your brain suffers, the more likely you are to avoid the serious problems that can result from the event. It also makes it less likely that you will face the cognitive decline and dementia that can happen in the years following a stroke.

Senior alert systems with fall detection and GPS can be a vital tool for those who are at risk of stroke, heart attack, falls, and other serious medical problems. When a medical emergency occurs, the medical alert device will connect you to an emergency monitoring center staffed 24/7 by trained agents. They will assess the situation quickly and get the proper help headed to you immediately. This can be incredibly valuable to your health and well-being, as lingering for any amount of time after a stroke can mean a worse outcome. Protect yourself with the best senior life-saving alert system that lets you reach out for help whenever and wherever you need it.