When stroke strikes, act FAST – top tips from care expert and stroke survivor
Throughout May, it’s National Stroke Awareness Month. In previous years, you may have seen or attended fundraising events encouraging you to Make May Purple, donning your purple ribbon and donating funds to local raffles and cake sales. But, this year, the Stroke Association is making a plea to the British public – to raise awareness of the life-threatening medical condition and the impact the pandemic has had on treatment. Here, Dan Archer - care expert and MD of in-home care provider, Visiting Angels - supports the cause of the charity, by highlighting the signs of a stroke to look out for, for you or a loved one, what to do in the event of a suspected stroke and some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the condition.
Stroke – the facts
• In England, one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime (1) – that amounts to one person every five minutes (2)
• 100,000 people have strokes each year
• There are 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK
• Stroke is the fourth biggest cause of death
• Almost two thirds of stroke survivors leave hospital with some sort of disability.
The biggest misconception? A stroke is unavoidable. In fact, 90% of strokes worldwide could have been prevented (3), through following a healthy lifestyle and – most importantly – knowing the signs to look out for.
So, what are the signs of a stroke?
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered using the word FAST:
• Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped
• Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm
• Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake - they may also have problems understanding what you're saying to them
• Time – it's time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
At Visiting Angels, we commit to ensuring our clients are visited by the same carer every week – meaning that, if the client’s behaviour seems unusual or at all in line with the warning signs above, they know their client well enough to act FAST.
The second biggest misconception? Only elderly or vulnerable people can suffer a stroke. In fact, it’s estimated that 400 children a year, including new-born babies, can have a stroke (4). Although your chances of suffering a stroke increase once you reach 55, about 1 in 4 strokes happen to younger people.
Debbie Daughtry, one of our in-home carers at Visiting Angels, sadly suffered a stroke aged just 36 years old – when her young children were five, three and 18 months old. The experience left her unable to walk, talk and – even after months of intense physical therapy – she still suffers from weakness in her left arm. But that certainly hasn’t stopped her in her tracks!
“I get so much personal satisfaction out of supporting our clients, especially those that have suffered the same experience as me,” explained Debbie. “Suffering a stroke at such a young age has taught me the value of gratefully relying on the support of others in a time of need. Don’t be too proud to ask for help – I took advantage of every treatment available to me and it’s improved my mobility no end. It was a life-changing experience for me and my family, but not life-ending. I’ve worked hard to get back to the life I led before.
“My only regret, looking back, is that I didn’t know the signs of a stroke. As a young woman, why would I have done? You just don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you. So my advice to anyone, no matter how old you are, is to educate yourself on the signs to look out for – by acting fast, some of the symptoms can have less of a long-term impact during your recovery. And remember that it’s not a death sentence if you do happen to suffer a stroke. With the right treatment and care, you can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life, like I have.”
Debbie’s stroke was completely unavoidable and sadly an impact of unrelated neurological surgery she’d recently undergone. But it’s crucial to know the other ways you may be able to avoid a stroke.
How to prevent a stroke
The best way to help prevent a stroke is to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
One of the leading causes of stroke is an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol levels – both of which can be minimised by following a healthy diet. A healthy diet generally includes eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains – all of which are low in fat and high in fibre. And it goes without saying that ensuring your diet is balanced is imperative. Try avoiding eating too much of any single food, particularly foods that are high in salt, fat or overly processed.
The best way to maintain a healthy weight is by combining a balanced diet with regular exercise, as this will also help lower cholesterol and keep your blood pressure healthy. For most people, the recommended amount of exercise would be around 150 minutes of moderate activity per week – for instance, cycling, walking or swimming. Although regular exercise may not be an option for you or your loved one in the first weeks or months after a stroke, you should have a good indication of when to start again after your rehabilitation has progressed.
And if I do suffer a stroke, what can I do to promote recovery?
Some of the most common side effects after a stroke include:
o Weakness, paralysis, and problems with balance or coordination
o Inattention to one side of the body, also known as neglect - in extreme cases, you may not be aware of your arm or leg
o Difficulty recognising limitations caused by the stroke
o Pain, numbness or burning and tingling sensations
o Urinary or bowel incontinence
o Speech problems or difficulty understanding speech, reading or writing
o Difficulty swallowing
o Memory problems, poor attention span or difficulty solving problems
o Visual problems
o Depression, anxiety, or mood swings with emotional outbursts.
It’s imperative to note that survivors may not experience all of the above side effects and so recovery will look different for each person. And whilst it’s unquestionable that your entire body has been through trauma, by following your health providers advice on your rehabilitation, you’re giving your body every possible chance to recover.
“The most important thing is to listen to your body and base your recovery on your own abilities and requirements – don’t be afraid to set your own pace,” adds Dan. “And if you’re supporting a loved one with their rehabilitation, have honest conversations with them about their capabilities at regular intervals. To alleviate some of the pressure on you and your family, contact a local in-home care provider to help take the pressure off whilst you or your loved one recuperates. Recovery looks very different for each person so, at Visiting Angels, we take great care in making sure our clients are given a bespoke package of care that both suits their needs whilst also encouraging their recovery. For us, that’s our number one priority.”
To find out more about the care services that Visiting Angels can provide for your loved one who may have suffered a stroke, please visit www.visiting-angels.co.uk/southyorks/ or call 0114 427 0070.
1 Public Health England, 2018, New figures show larger proportion of strokes in the middle aged.
2 Stroke Association, 2020, Stroke statistics.
3 Stroke Association, 2018, Stroke Awareness.
4Stroke Association, 2020, Childhood stroke.