February 7, 2014

 By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA

Caring for a loved one who has had a stroke can be very taxing physically, mentally and emotionally. According to the National Stroke Association, strokes are the fourth-highest cause of death. Those fortunate enough to survive the attack have to undergo extensive rehabilitation in order to regain the ability to speak, think clearly, and/or control their basic motor skills depending on where the brain damaged occurred. It’s almost unimaginable how a small blood clot or hemorrhage that interrupts or severs blood flow and oxygen to the brain can radically alter a person’s lifestyle.

The Importance of Rapid Response

One of the scariest things about strokes is that stroke victims rarely exhibit warning signs before a stroke occurs. These warning signs, rather, appear as the stroke is happening. Your loved one may feel fine and go about performing everyday activities before the stroke strikes. The ability to detect a few key warning signs as soon as they appear can mean the difference between life and death. Here are a few stroke symptoms to watch for:

  •     Numbness on one side of the face or body
  •     Difficulty speaking or walking
  •     Problems in maintaining balance
  •     Confusion or inability to understand others
  •     Sudden dizziness and/or severe headache

The faster your loved one receives medical attention, the less of an impact the stroke will have on their physical and mental abilities, and the better chances they will have of a facilitated recovery. The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association encourage everyone to remember the acronym FAST (facial weakness, arms, speech and time). Paralysis of the face, an inability to keep one’s arms level and slurred speech are all telltale signs that a person is or is about to have a stroke. The last point is perhaps the most important; a delayed response in medical attention could potentially lead to permanent disability.

What is the stroke survival rate for the elderly and how long does it take to recover?

The leading factor that affects a person’s stroke survival rate is how soon medical attention is administered; this cannot be stressed enough. How soon your loved one gets help will have a significant impact on whether they survive the stroke.

As it pertains to stroke recovery rates, the National Stroke Association states that 85% of stroke victims survive, and among those that survive, 75% will have some negative effect from the stroke ranging from minor impairment to requiring skilled care.

Stoke victims and their loved ones can hope for a full return to normalcy, but there are many factors that play a role as to whether this may be possible. There is no one-size-fits-all stroke recovery timeline for many aged stroke victims.


The Elderly and Stroke Recovery

The acute recovery phase begins almost immediately after the victim has been stabilized, typically 24 hours following the occurrence. Rehabilitation specialists will aid your loved one to move muscles and limbs that they are unable to on their own. Speech therapy is also a critical element of the initial recovery stage, especially if this is the part of the patient’s brain that has been affected most by the stroke.

Stroke rehabilitation for the elderly can range anywhere from a few weeks to many years, depending again on the individual’s personal circumstances. Caregivers can play an especially important role in the ongoing phases of recovery, as it is common for older adults to experience post-stroke depression. (Elderly people who have other health conditions are at a higher risk for developing depression).  This occurs if they have been rehabbing for quite a while and/or if the progress of their recovery has been slower or more difficult than expected. Ensuring they eat healthy foods, helping them to express their feelings of frustration and joy, and encouraging them to follow their plan for rehabilitation will be a great support for them on their road to recovery.