Stroke is an acute cerebrovascular catastrophe characterized by loss of many bodily functions such as inability to move limbs, loss of speech, vision etc to more serious symptoms such as coma and death. Stroke also known as cerebrovascular accident (CVA) occurs when part of brain is damaged due to lack of blood circulation in that particular area.
Adults as well as elderly both can suffer from this medical emergency. After coronary artery disease and cancer, stroke is the third largest killer. Stroke can be differentiated into two types; ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.Both the forms can affect elderly individuals, although ischemic stroke is more common.
Most cases of strokes in elderly are treated conservatively with medication. Surgery is sometimes necessary. Rehabilitation therapy is important in stroke survivors in order to help them live independent life.
Types Of Stroke In The Elderly
As mentioned above, there are two types of stroke, ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.
- Ischemic stroke: Majority of stroke cases in elderly are caused due to ischemia in the brain arteries. In this type of stroke, the vessel gets blocked due to a blood clot or fatty deposit (atherosclerotic changes in the artery). As a person ages, the arteries tend to become narrow. However, the process increases its speed with certain risk factors such as high cholesterol in blood, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking etc.
- Hemorrhagic stroke: Hemorrhagic strokes occur when the artery supplying the brain cells ruptures and blood leaks out from the artery. It forms a hematoma. It can occur when the walls of tiny branches of main artery to the brain becomes weak, balloons out to break. It is called aneurysm.
In both the cases lack of blood supply and oxygen causes brain cells to die, leading to various symptoms of stroke.
Signs And Symptoms Of Stroke In Elderly
In most elderly patients the onset of stroke is rapid and may vary from an instantaneous paralysis with coma. To a lesser extent, the onset may be slower where paralysis becomes most obvious after 24 hours. The site of brain damage and its neurological signs will depend on the artery involved. Here are important symptoms of stroke in elderly. Usually it is more common in males over the age of 60.
- The symptoms may be gradual where affected person may feel sick and pale.
- Frequent one sided numb feeling in hands, legs and face is observed before complete paralysis develops.
- Severe headache which occurs suddenly.
- Patient may look confused and have slurred speech which is difficult to understand by others.
- Change in gait. Patient may find difficulty to move around normally. He may have staggered gait. He may find difficulty in lifting his leg while walking.
- He may have vision problems. His vision may become blurred or he may see two objects.
Treatment Options For Stroke
A person of any age can suffer from stroke; however, the risk is far greater in older persons. Elderly individuals over the age of 60 years have more risk especially if they have high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. In majority of cases the treatment is medical. Management depends on the type of stroke, whether it is a hemorrhagic or ischemic.
With facilities now available such as MRI and CT scan, it has now become easier to diagnose the condition as soon as it is suspected. All stroke patients need hospitalization. In case of ischemic stroke, patient is administered anti thrombotic and anticoagulant therapy.
Medicines for reducing high blood pressure plays important role. Sometimes when carotid artery is stenosed, surgery may be required to relieve the blockage.
Treatment for hemorrhagic stroke consists of removing blood clot by surgical means. It depends on the size of hematoma. If the hematoma is large, surgery may be required. If the clot is small, the treatment is conservative.