Stroke, also known as cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or brain attack, is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain that may result in devastating neurological damage, disability, or death. Approximately 795,000 people in the United States have a new or recurrent stroke each year (American Stroke Association [ASA], 2012a). Stroke accounts for 1 in 18 deaths, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. A death from stroke occurs every 4 minutes and the cost of stroke treatment and disability was over $73 billion dollars in 2010. Death from stroke is generally higher among females, with higher rates in Black males (67.7/100,000) and females (57.0/100,000) than in Caucasians (ASA, 2012a). In Canada, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death, affecting 50,000 people each year (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 20059).
There are two major types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. The vast majority of strokes are caused by ischemia (87%), usually from a thrombus or embolus (ASA, 2012a). The symptoms and damage seen depend on which vessels in the brain are blocked. Carotid artery occlusion is also a common cause of stroke related to stenosis
Some risk factors for stroke are controllable and others are not. The most significant risk factor for stroke is hypertension. Controlling high blood pressure is an important way to reduce stroke risk. Those with a blood pressure of less than 120/80 have half the lifetime risk of stroke as those with hypertension (ASA, 2012a). Smoking 40 or more cigarettes per day (heavy smoking) increases the stroke risk to twice that of light smokers. If a person quits smoking, their risk after 5 years mirrors that of a nonsmoker, so older adults should be particularly encouraged to stop smoking.
Several warning signs are common. These include:
SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause (National Stroke Association, 2013)
There are several tools for assessing for signs and symptoms of stroke. One easy acronym is FAST:
F stands for facial droop. Ask the person to smile and see if drooping is present.
A stands for arm. Have the person lift both arms straight out in front of him. If one is arm is drifting lower than the other, it is a sign that weakness is present.
S stands for speech. Ask the person to say a short phrase such as “light, tight, dynamite” and check for slurring or other abnormal speech.
T stands for time. If the first F-A-S checks are not normal, then one is to remember F-A-S-T that Time is important and the emergency medical system should be activated (National Stroke Association, 2012).
Older adults experiencing the warning signs of stroke should note the time on the clock and seek immediate treatment by activating the emergency response system in their area calling 911 (American Stroke Association, 2012). Transport to an emergency medical facility for evaluation is essential for the best array of treatment options. A history and neurological exam, vital signs, as well as diagnostic tests including electrocardiogram (ECG), chest Xx-ray, platelets, prothrombin time (PT), partial thromboplastin time (PTT), electrolytes, and glucose are routinely ordered. Diagnostic testing imaging may include computed tomography (CT) without contrast, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), arteriography, or ultrasonography to determine the type and location of the stroke. The CT or MRI should ideally be done within 90 minutes so that appropriate emergency measures may be initiated to prevent further brain damage.
The first step in treatment is to determine the cause or type of stroke. A CT scan or MRI must first be done to rule out hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke treatment often requires surgery to evacuate blood and stop the bleeding.
The gold standard at present for treatment of ischemic stroke is t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator). At this time, t-PA must be given within 3 hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. This is why it is essential that older adults seek treatment immediately when symptoms begin. Only about 3 – 5% of people reach the hospital in time to be considered for this treatment (ASA, 2012d). t-PA may be effective for a select group of patients after the 3-hour window (up to 4.5 ½ hours), and this treatment window has been approved in Canada (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2009). The major side effect of t-PA is bleeding. t-PA is not effective for all patients, but may reduce or eliminate symptoms in over 40% of those who receive it at the appropriate time (Higashida, 2005). Other, much less common procedures such as angioplasty, laser emulsification, and mechanical clot retrieval may be options for treatment of acute ischemic stroke.
To prevent recurrence of thromboembolic stroke, medications such as aspirin, ticlopidine (Ticlid), clopidogrel (Plavix), dipyridamole (Persantine), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and enoxaparin (Lovenox) may be used to prevent clot formation. Once the stroke survivor has stabilized, the long process of rehabilitation begins. Each stroke is different depending on location and severity, so persons may recover with little or no residual deficits or an entire array of devastating consequences.
The effects of stroke vary, and some persons may recover with no residual effects. But more often, stroke survivors may have problems that include hemiplegia or hemiparesis (paralysis or weakness on one side of the body), visual and perceptual deficits, language deficits, emotional changes, swallowing dysfunction, and bowel and bladder problems. Ninety percent of all dysphagia (swallowing problems) results from stroke (White, O’Rourke, Ong, Cordato, & Chan, 2008).
Rehabilitation after a stroke focuses on several key principles. These include maximizing functional ability, preventing complications, promoting quality of life, encouraging adaptation, and enhancing independence. Rehabilitation emphasizes the survivor’s abilities, not disabilities, and helps him or her to work with what he or she has while acknowledging what was lost.
Stroke survivors go through a unique recovery process. This model shows the process of stroke recovery where forward progress after stroke lead to acceptance and adaptation:
If significant functional impairments are present, evaluation for transfer to an intensive acute inpatient rehabilitation program is recommended. Inpatient rehabilitation units offer the survivor the best opportunity to maximize recovery, including functional return. An interdisciplinary team of experienced experts, including nurses, therapists, physicians, social workers, and psychologists, will help the survivor and the family to adapt to the changes resulting from the stroke. Outcomes for geriatric stroke survivors are enhanced by intensive rehabilitation programs, whether offered in rehabilitation units or in skilled nursing facilities (Duraski, Denby, Danzy & Sullivan, 2012; Jett, Warren, & Wirtalla, 2005).
A large amount of teaching is often done by stroke rehabilitation nurses who work with older survivors and their families. These include knowing the warning signs of stroke and how to activate the emergency response system in their neighborhood, managing high blood pressure, understanding what medications are ordered as well as how often to take them and why, the importance of regular doctor visits, preventing falls and making the home environment safe, available community education and support groups, and the necessity of maintaining a therapeutic regimen and lifestyle to decrease the risk of complications and recurrent stroke. All survivors will need assistance in re-integrating into the community. This is generally begun in the rehabilitation setting.
Before your loved one has a health scare, it’s important to have these legal documents ready to protect them and your family. Start the conversation early about your loved one’s healthcare wishes and end-of-life care. Learn what legal documents every senior needs by reading on!
1. Last Will and Testament
Having a will ensures your loved one’s wishes for their estate are properly carried out after their death. If a person doesn’t have a will, state law determines what happens to their assets. It’s recommended that your loved one update their will every five years to keep up with changing circumstances in day-to-day life.
2. Advanced Directive
If your loved one is ever unable to make decisions for themselves due to memory loss or a serious health condition, the family is left to make decisions for them which could lead to disagreements about your loved one’s wishes. An advanced directive, also know as a living will, is a document used to specify your loved one’s health care decisions ahead of time. They can accept or refuse certain types of care (e.g. feeding tube, oxygen administration, life support, etc.) depending on what their wishes are.
3. Power of Attorney
By granting power of attorney to a trusted and responsible family member (proxy), this allows them to make decisions on your loved one’s behalf in case they are unable to. A standard power of attorney allows the family member to pay bills and write checks—while a durable power of attorney for medical care can make healthcare decisions for your loved one.
4. Do-Not-Resuscitate Order
A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) is a legal document that instructs health care providers not to provide life sustaining treatment if a patient’s heart stops or they stop breathing. If your loved one is nearing end-of-life care or terminally ill, they may not want to be resuscitated in a medical emergency. Only the patient or their health care proxy can sign a DNR order.
You can download a free starter kit from The Conversation Project to help guide the conversation with your loved one about their end-of-life care. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
About the Author: Peter Kang is a writer for eCaregivers. He is inspired by his caregiver experience with his late grandfather and role model, a Korean War veteran, to help families find affordable care for their loved ones. Follow Peter on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re past your 40th birthday, you’ve likely noticed some subtle signs of aging despite your best efforts to eat right and exercise regularly.
One of the most common signs of aging is changes in our vision. The eyes gradually lose their elasticity as we age, leading to a variety of vision problems, including difficulty reading and seeing things up close.
Fortunately, many of these issues can be corrected, with corrective lenses or laser eye (LASIK) surgery.
Common eyesight problems for people over 40
There are more than a dozen vision problems directly related to aging. Some of the more common issues include:
- Dry eye syndrome — As we age, we have fewer tears in our eyes and they can become dry and irritated as a result. This problem is especially prevalent in women. You can combat this problem by using artificial tears.
- Changes in light and perception — Aging also affects the eye’s ability to adapt to darkness. This problem is particularly common among African-Americans. Prescription eye drops usually help ease this condition.
- Presbyopia — Presbyopia is the gradual hardening of the eye’s lens as we age. This usually results in difficulty reading or seeing things at close range. Reading glasses are generally prescribed to correct this problem.
- Cataracts — Cataracts are a cloudiness on the retina that affects vision. More than 22 million Americans are affected by this vision problem. In fact, more than half of Americans will develop this problem by the time they reach age 80. When vision becomes so cloudy it affects a person’s quality of life, cataracts are treated by eye surgery, a common and safe operation.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — AMD is the leading cause of irreversible eye damage in those over age 50. This condition destroys the sharp, central vision needed for things like driving and reading. Lasik surgery can help prevent further damage to the eye, but can’t restore vision that has been lost.
- Diabetic Retinopathy — Diabetes affects more than 4.5 million Americans over the age of 40. This chronic condition affects the blood flow to all parts of the body, including the eyes, resulting in blurred vision and “floaters.” Lasik surgery is usually performed to correct this problem.
How to prevent, reverse and/or retard eyesight problems related to aging
There are many things that you and your eye doctor can do to help you keep your good eyesight well into your golden years. Proper eye care is not just your doctor’s responsibility. Some of the things that you have control over include not smoking, eating eye-healthy foods full of vitamins C and E, exercising regularly, protecting your eyes with UV-rated sunglasses when outdoors and breathing clean air. In addition, it’s important to keep your regular, annual eye exams, so your doctor can identify and treat any problems early.
Lasik surgery and eye problems due to aging
Lasik surgery can help treat a number of vision issues associated with aging. In fact, more than 11 million Americans have had some sort of LASIK eye surgery since it became widely available in 1991. LASIK can help to improve vision in patients who are near-sighted, far-sighted and/or have an astigmatism. This type of eye surgery works by reshaping the cornea and is effective in improving vision in more than 96 percent of patients, according to WedMD.
There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and malignant melanoma (MM). Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer, accounting for 65–85% of cases (Kennedy-Malone et al., 2000). According to the American Cancer Society (2013), more than 3.5 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed every year. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in African Americans and is also less serious than malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma accounts for only 3% of all skin cancers, but it is responsible for the majority of deaths from skin cancer. Older adults are 10 times more likely to get MM than adults under age 40 (Johnson & Taylor, 2012). About 8,420 people were estimated to die from malignant melanoma in 2008. The American Cancer Society (2013) estimated that in 2013 there would be over 76,000 new cases of malignant melanoma in the United States.
Older adults are more susceptible to skin cancers because of a variety of factors. These include exposure to carcinogens over time (such as through sunburn or tanning booths) and immunosenescence, or a decline in immune function. Family history of skin cancers, multiple moles (more than 100), and pale skin also put a person at higher risk. The major risk factor for all types of skin cancer is sun exposure.
The ABCDE method can help people remember the warning signs of skin cancer:
A = Asymmetry (if a line is drawn down the middle of the lesion, the two sides do not match)
B = Border (the borders of the lesion tend to be irregular)
C = Color (a variety of colors is present; the lesion is not uniform in color)
D = Diameter (MM lesions are usually larger)
E = Evolving (note any changes in shape or size, or any bleeding)
Annual physical examinations should include inspection of the skin for lesions. Older adults should be taught to report any suspicious areas on their skin to the physician. Persons should particularly look for changes in shape, color, and whether a lesion is raised or bleeds.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common kind of skin cancer. It is often found on the head or face, or other areas exposed to the sun. Although there are different forms of BCC, the nodular type is most common, and appears as a raised, firm, papule that is pearly or shiny with a rolled edge. (Johnson & Taylor, 2012). Patients often complain that these lesions bleed and scab easily. When treated early, it is easily removed through surgery and is not life threatening, though it is often recurring.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) also appears as lesion on areas of the body exposed to the sun, or from other trauma such as radiation. HPV is a risk factor of SCC, and metastasis is more common than with BCC. The lesions of SCC appear scaly, pink, and thicker than BCC. Their borders may be more irregular and the lesions may look more like an ulceration.
Malignant melanoma MM has a more distinctive appearance than other types of skin cancer. The areas appear asymmetric with irregular borders, a variety of colors (including black, purplish, and pink), and size greater than 6 mm. Malignant melanoma MM is often identified with the ABCDE method and MM accounts for the vast majority of deaths from skin cancer. The good news is that MM is almost always curable when found early. A skin check should be part of an older person’s yearly physical.
The best treatment for skin cancer in the elderly is prevention. All older persons, especially those with fair skin who are prone to sunburn, should wear sunblock and protective clothing. Most skin cancers, when treated early, have a good prognosis.
All skin lesions larger than 6 mm, or those with any of the ABCDE signs, should be referred for biopsy. There are many nonsurgical interventions. These include cryotherapy, radiotherapy (for superficial BCC or SCC), electrodessication and curettage, and topical treatments. Topical treatments are generally not as effective as more aggressive interventions, but research is ongoing in this area.
The prognosis for MM depends on the extent and staging of the tumor, but when caught very early, the cure rate is nearly 100%. Malignant melanoma MM presenting in older adults is often more advanced and aggressive. Malignant melanoma MM metastases sites are typically the lymph nodes, liver, lung, and brain (Johnson & Taylor, 2012). Surgical treatment is required in malignant melanoma, with chemotherapy and radiation. Adjuvant treatments for MM are also often used.
Kristen Mauk has never been one to stop learning. The clinical nurse specialist has nearly 30 years of experience in rehabilitation and gerontology, a handful of degrees, and has authored or edited seven books. She now helps train the future generation as a professor of nursing at Colorado Christian University in Colorado. She also recently launched her own business, Senior Care Central/International Rehabilitation Consultants, which provides nursing and rehabilitation education throughout the world.
Question: What drew you to nursing? What do you enjoy about it?
Mauk: “I grew up in a medical family. My father was a pediatric surgeon and my mom was a nurse, so I was always around the healthcare professions. However, nursing offered so many opportunities for growth and change while doing what I loved — helping others. There are many aspects of nursing that I enjoy, but feeling like I help make peoples’ lives better has to be the best perk of the job. Nursing is a versatile profession. I started off my career as an operating room nurse, worked for a decade in med-surg, geriatrics, and rehabilitation, then eventually went back to school for additional education so that I could make a greater impact on healthcare through teaching nursing students.”
Question: You have an impressive education. Why did you continue to pursue advanced degrees in the field? How has that benefited you?
Mauk: “First, I am a life-long learner, something that was instilled by my father who was always encouraging his children to explore the world and have an inquiring mind. Dinners at my house were filled with learning activities such as, ‘How does a flashlight work?,’ ‘What is a group of lions called?,’ or ‘For $20, who can spell hors d’oeuvres?’ (By the way, I got that $20!) So, continuing my education through studying for advanced degrees seemed a natural progression when you love to learn and love your work. I felt a need to know as much as possible about my areas of interest, gerontology and rehabilitation, so that I could provide better care to patients and be a better teacher for my students. My advanced education has?opened many doors in the professional nursing world, such as the opportunity to write books, conduct research to improve the quality of life for stroke survivors, or hold national positions in professional organizations.”
Question: What’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had, either as a student, educator or in your practice?
Mauk: “There are many memorable experiences I’ve had both as an educator and in practice. One of the most memorable from practice was early in my career working on a skilled/rehab unit in a little country hospital in Iowa. There was an older man who couldn’t find a radio station that played his favorite hymns and one of my co-workers knew that I had a musical background and asked me to sing to him at the bedside. I timidly held his hand as he lay in his hospital bed, and with the door closed because it was late at night, I softly sang all the old hymns I could remember. He closed his eyes and smiled, clasping my hand for nearly an hour of singing. The next evening, I heard him excitedly tell his family members that ‘an angel visited me last night. She had the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard. She held my hand and sang all of my favorite hymns!’ Hearing that outside the door, I smiled, but was later surprised when I stopped in to see him that he truly didn’t seem to remember me. One day later, he died unexpectedly. I often look back and wonder on that experience. In the many years of nursing experience that followed, I have learned that there are sometimes angels where we least expect them.”
Question: What advice do you have for people just starting their education or their professional career?
Mauk: “Nursing is a great profession! Learn all that you can while you are in school and continue to be a lifelong learner. The need for nurses who specialize in care of older adults and rehabilitation is only going to continue to grow because of the booming aging population. There is currently, and will continue to be, a shortage of skilled professionals to meet the demand that is looming with the graying of America. Gain skills that will make you a specialist and afford you additional opportunities. Always give the best care to those you serve. Set yourself apart by building a professional reputation for excellence through advanced education, publication, scholarship, clinical practice, and community service. Then, go and change the world!”
According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), simple home repairs, improvements, and modifications can help seniors move around their home more easily and avoid accidents such as slips and falls. Some of the easier home improvement projects that seniors can undertake with the help of home care aides to improve their lifestyle include:
Replace High Pile Rugs
Unlike low pile rugs, high pile rugs have longer threads that give them a luxuriant and aesthetically appealing look. However, high pile rugs tend to impede the movement of seniors who rely on walkers or walking canes and even worse, can increase the risk of trips and falls, which in turn increases the risk of injuries. In fact, data from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)( http://www.aaos.org/Research/ ) shows that 90% of hip fractures in seniors are caused by falling. Moreover, 50% of patients with hip fractures remain dependent on a walker or cane, whereas 20% die within one year of falling. With this in mind, seniors could enlist the help of their senior care aides to replace high pile rugs with low pile rugs.
Installing Handrails and Grab Bars
Seniors can easily trip and fall when using the stairs or even the bathroom. Fortunately, installing handrails and grab bars can reduce this risk significantly. Inside the bathroom, grab bars should be installed on the walls. On the other hand, appropriate handrails should be installed along walls or suitable surfaces that run parallel to staircases.
Improve Mobility inside the Bathroom
Seniors can enlist the help of home care aides to install slip-resistant rugs on slippery floors such as the bathroom floor. This is in addition to installing a curb less shower to reduce the risk of falling while attempting to get inside the shower area. Remember, the elderly may have difficulties accessing bathroom areas that are elevated even slightly.
Replace Doorknobs with Lever Handles
A common problem that seniors face, especially those suffering from diseases that affect body joints such as arthritis, is turning doorknobs. Luckily, this problem can be resolved by replacing doorknobs with lever handles. Doing so would also improve safety because an elderly person would easily be able to open doors and escape in the event of an emergency such as a fire outbreak.
Replace Traditional Light Switches with Touch or Rocker Switches
Another problem that some seniors face is turning on/off traditional light switches. Seniors generally experience vision and mobility problems, meaning it becomes increasingly difficult for them to locate and turn on/off toggle switches. Nevertheless, seniors can resolve this issue with the help of home care aides by replacing the problematic switches with touch or rocker switches.
Poor lighting can cause accidents such as falls with injury. Additionally, elderly may also injure their arms and hands while reaching for items stored inside poorly lit kitchen cabinets and drawers. An effective way of resolving these issues is by installing recessed lighting to illuminate kitchen workspaces and cabinets. Furthermore, it is wise to install suitable lighting to illuminate corridors, verandas, and outdoor walkway. This will make it easier for the elderly to move around or access whatever they need with relative ease, especially at night.
Some of the easier home improvement projects that seniors can complete with the help of senior care aides include installing handrails and grab bars, replacing high pile rugs with low pile ones, installing recessed lighting, replacing door knobs with lever handles, as well as replacing traditional toggle switches with touch or rocker switches. If you find yourself needing reliable in-home senior care, providers like Seniors Helping Seniors (http://www.seniorcarebrentwoodca.com/ ) are always there to help.