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How Seniors Can Reduce the Risk of Stroke

8 min read

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by Dr. Kurt Hong

Senior couple on bicycles exercising to prevent stroke

Did you know that over 70% of all strokes occur after 65 years of age? The risk of stroke increases with age, and with each decade after 45, its prevalence doubles.

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This is because our arteries naturally become stiffer and narrower as time passes, making them more susceptible to clogging with fatty materials (atherosclerosis). Clogged arteries prevent sufficient amounts of blood from reaching the brain, and as a result of inadequate blood flow and supply to the brain, ischemic stroke occurs.

A stroke is a medical emergency and needs to be treated right away. Luckily, up to 80% of strokes are preventable, and various lifestyle modifications can reduce the risk of stroke in seniors. In this article, we will discuss the actionable steps to prevent a stroke.

Preventing stroke is not about adding additional things to your already busy life but replacing your habits slowly and subtly with healthy ones.

What Is a Stroke and Its Symptoms?

Stroke is defined as the blockage or reduction of blood supply to some or all parts of the brain (ischemic stroke) or the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

Blockage of the blood supply prevents brain tissue from getting enough oxygen, blood, and nutrients, leading to stroke. A stroke can lead to long-term disability, brain damage, and even death.

The common signs and symptoms of stroke in seniors include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Lack of coordination or difficulty walking
  • Problem with communication
  • Paralysis or numbness on one side of the body, commonly in the face or limbs
  • Vision problems

The common acronym to remember the signs of a stroke is F.A.S.T. The letters stand for the following:

  • Facial immobility
  • Difficulty in lifting one or both of the Arms
  • Slurred Speech
  • Treatment and calling 911 if you notice any of these signs

5 Common Ways To Reduce The Risk Of Stroke In Seniors

1. Reduce Smoking

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Smoking is a permanent habit for many people. Unfortunately, continuous exposure to smoke can lead to stroke in many ways.

Tobacco smoke contains many harmful and cancerous chemicals that can pass from your lungs to the bloodstream. These chemicals thicken the blood and gradually damage the blood vessels, narrowing the vessels.

As the arteries narrow, it reduces blood flow to the brain and the entire body, increasing the risk of blood clots. The clots may also travel to the brain. This limits blood flow and leads to stroke.

Tobacco smoke also contains carbon monoxide and nicotine, which reduces oxygen in blood and increases blood pressure, blocking or bursting the arteries in the brain.

Hence, smoking plays a major role in causing strokes in seniors primarily because they have been exposed to smoke for several years. To prevent or reduce the risk of stroke, it is advisable to quit smoking or gradually reduce your consumption with the help of nicotine pills or patches, certain medicines, or counseling.

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2. Manage  Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels

Uncontrolled hypertension is a known risk factor for stroke. Keeping your blood pressure in the optimal range, either through lifestyle modification or medication, will help to reduce this risk.

In addition, it is important to monitor your cholesterol levels as we get older. Cholesterol levels normally increase with age and are typically high in seniors who have a sedentary lifestyle or remain physically inactive.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver, and consistently high levels of cholesterol can develop fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Over time, these deposits grow and form clots in the blood vessels, reducing blood supply to the brain and leading to stroke.

To manage cholesterol levels, certain lifestyle and dietary changes must be made. For example, engaging in vigorous aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, or running for 20 minutes at least three times weekly is recommended.

In addition, dietary modifications like reducing trans and saturated fats and increasing the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids omega 3 fatty acids (through foods such as fish, nuts, and seeds) and plant sterols (oil oil, seeds) can help manage cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of stroke.

3. Regular Medicine Intake

If you have any chronic disease, like hypertension, heart disease, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, or diabetes, it increases your risk of developing stroke. Hence, regularly taking your medicines and periodic health check-ups with the doctor are crucial to preventing stroke. If you have diabetes or hypertension, regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels and blood pressure is recommended.

In patients who have heart disease, certain anticoagulant drugs are prescribed as a preventive measure for blood clot formation and stroke. Moreover, if your doctor has recommended any surgical treatment, get it done without delay or the condition may worsen and progress to stroke.

4. Limit Alcohol Intake to One or Two Drinks

Alcohol mainly affects the heart and blood pressure, which directly increases the risk of stroke. Increased alcohol consumption releases hormones that tighten and constrict the arteries, limiting blood flow to the brain and increasing blood pressure.

Hence, even if you cannot quit alcohol intake, try limiting it to one or two drinks per day to reduce its adverse effects on your heart and blood pressure.

5. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity is a significant risk factor for stroke, and it can contribute to stroke in several ways. Risk factors include increased blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.  Being overweight is also associated with chronic inflammation, which can release substances in your blood vessel that damages the blood vessel walls and make them more susceptible to atherosclerosis and blood clots, leading to stroke.

It’s important to maintain a healthy weight through lifestyle modifications with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Cutting down on foods high in saturated fats will help you not only lower your cholesterol level but may also help you lose weight.

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