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How to cope when your parent has a stroke

How to cope when your parent has a strokeSuffering a stroke is a danger at almost any age, but it’s our parents who are often most at risk. It can be terrifying when a parent has a stroke but making sure we’re aware of the warning signs, as well as the risk factors, can help to prevent permanent damage to our parent’s memory.

What is a stroke?

According to the National Stroke Association, a stroke occurs when an artery is blocked by a blood clot or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to part of the brain. These blockages and breaks can both lead to brain cells dying, and varying degrees of brain damage.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), otherwise known as a ‘mini-stroke’, is a small stroke occurring in later life, where the brain’s blood supply is briefly interrupted and usually causes no permanent damage.

How can I tell if someone is having a stroke?

The NHS launched a Stroke Awareness Campaign a few years ago, outlining an acronym to help us all remember the warning signs of a stroke. Act F.A.S.T.

  • Face. Has your parent’s face fallen on one side? Can they still smile?
  • Arms. Can your parent raise both arms? Can they keep them there or does one fall?
  • Speech. Is your parent’s speech slurred? Are they making sense?
  • Time. If any of these signs present themselves you should call 999 right away.

Other signs of an oncoming stroke can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe headaches

As with any situation where you’re concerned for your parent’s health, seek medical attention immediately.

What do I do if I suspect it’s a stroke?

Signs of an oncoming stroke should always be investigated immediately as they may indicate your parent has predisposition to strokes or they’re more susceptible to a major stroke.

If you suspect that your parent has experienced a stroke or TIA, you should take them to the nearest A&E department or contact 999, especially if the symptoms do not pass.

What will happen at the hospital?

Taking your parent to A&E will allow the necessary tests and scans to be completed in order to identify the cause of your parent’s attack. The doctor over seeing this process will be able to make the necessary recommendations based on their test results.

If you parent has experienced a TIA often the symptoms are fleeting and can pass within a few minutes. However, you will still need to contact your parent’s GP as soon as you can so that your parent can be checked over and possibly referred to a specialist for further tests and scans.

The basic blood tests are:

  • Blood Clotting Tests
  • Cholesterol Tests
  • Glucose Tests

Additional scans and tests may be recommended by your parent’s specialist can include:

  • ECG’s
  • Chest X-rays
  • CT Scans
  • MRI scans
  • Ultrasounds
  • Echocardiograms

This route would require you to be more proactive with your parent’s doctor in terms of following up, getting the results and scheduling further appointments to discuss a potential treatment plan.

The importance of aftercare

Your parent’s aftercare and rehabilitation process should begin as soon as possible after their stroke to prevent reoccurrence. This not only increases their chances of full recovery but allows them time to regain any capability, skill and/or dexterity that was lost due to the stroke.

Whilst each stroke is different with varying after-effects, there are a few that are common for most stroke victims:

  • Cognitive problems (issues with thinking, memory and learning)
  • Vision problems
  • Paralysis (normally one sided)
  • Tiring quickly
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

These physical and neurological impairments are usually addressed in your parent’s rehabilitation process. The two psychological conditions that are most commonly experienced by stroke victims are depression and anxiety disorders.

It’s only understandable that your parent might become depressed by the state that they find themselves in after stroke; as the potential disabilities that need to be addressed there-after, may leave them feeling vulnerable.

A stroke may be a life changing event for your parent but with the necessary assessment, early intervention by medical professionals and the assistance of loved ones, the after-effects and risk factors can be effectively managed and reduced.

If you're concerned about the possibility of your parent having another stroke medical jewellery may be a way of ensuring that your parent is treated quickly and that the attending physician is aware of your parent's history as well as the medications they've been taking.

Choices in aftercare

The level of care your parent needs will depend on the severity of their stroke, the area of the brain affected and the motor functions that area controls. The length of their treatment plan and rehabilitation will be determined by their GP or specialist accordingly.

Aftercare and rehabilitation for stroke survivors may extend over a few months or, in some cases, years. There are many options to choose from when it comes to the right aftercare and rehabilitation to suit your parent including:

A specialist care home, rehabilitation residency or nursing facility could benefit your parent as they would be able to receive fulltime attention as well as be part of an intense rehabilitation programme. Access to expertly trained staff as and when your parent needs can also be indispensable to their recovery process. For more information on aftercare click here.

Your parent could receive aftercare at home depending on the severity of their case. If they’ve suffered a mild stroke then live-in care as well as extensive support from family could be an option.

A structured daily routine can be a good starting point when working with your parent to prevent another stroke. A routine may minimise the stroke’s after-effects as well as provide peace of mind for your parent and indeed yourself.

What are the lifestyle choices advised to prevent strokes?

The main risk factors that cause strokes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Age 55+

Whilst many of these risks can be managed and controlled with a health conscious lifestyle, some are unfortunately beyond our and our parent’s control. The National Stroke Association has a Stroke Risk Scorecard that can help you and your parent keep track of the risk factors in their lives.

If your parent displays one or more of these risk factors, particularly in older age, it’s important that you’re both aware of the lifestyle and medical changes that can be made to reduce the risk of a stroke.

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