The Signs of a Stroke, and the Life that Comes After

by Terry Whitehead | Member, ARTA Wellness Committee

My mother was an amazing person. She lived independently in Qualicum Beach after her husband passed away several years earlier. She drove everywhere on the Island and loved walking on the beach with her little dog well into her eighties. She was a very private person and did not see the need to make friends with her neighbors, but she loved having her four children visit her.

One day she fell on the floor and could not move. She could, however, crawl to the coffee table to get her phone. She refused to call 911 because she did not want her neighbors to see an ambulance pull up to her house. Instead, she phoned my younger sister who lived in Comox, 50 minutes away, and told her to come over. My sister drove to her house, packed an overnight bag, and then drove to the hospital in Nanaimo — another 40 minutes. They sat in the emergency room at the hospital until a doctor had time to see them. The doctor then informed them that my mother had not only experienced a stroke but also a mild heart attack.

This experience is a prime example of what should not be done. After someone suffers a stroke, there is only a short period (less than three hours) to administer the medication called tPA that helps restore blood flow to the brain to minimize any damage. After this period, the damages may become permanent. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is currently experimenting to find a drug that can counteract the effects even after this period, but it is not available yet.

A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood flow to the brain by a blockage. It can also be due to bleeding or rupture of the cell affecting the function of that specific area of the brain, usually occurring only on one side of the brain. Ruptured brain aneurysms account for 3 – 5% of all new strokes.

It is, therefore, important to recognize the signs of a stroke. We can use the acronym F (face) A (arm) S (speech) T (time) to help us remember.

  1. Does the face look uneven or appear to be drooping? Have the person stick out their tongue and see if it curves to one side of the mouth or if it is straight.
  2. Next, test for arm weakness. Ask them to raise both hands above the head. Does one arm hang down or feel weak or numb?
  3. Next, check for speech difficulty. Is the speech slurred?
  4. If any of these signs are present, call 911 to get immediate attention.

Other symptoms could be a sudden loss of balance or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes.

As soon as I could, I drove to Vancouver Island to visit my mother. I found her with the nurse at the hospital. The nurse asked her to draw a person, even if it was only a stick person. I thought she was checking my mother’s eye-hand coordination, but that was not the entire reason. After a stroke, some patients only recognize half of their body. When they want to walk, the signal travels from the brain to the recognized half and the patient believes they can walk with only half a body. Of course, this is not possible. They usually end up falling to the floor. My mother, thankfully, recognized both sides of her body, so she was ready for the rehabilitation activities on the various machines designed to strengthen her arms and legs. She persevered and could walk slowly but was weak on her left side. The other thing the nurse was concerned about was depression. After a patient experiences such a change, it is easy for depression to set in and the patient may not want to go on living. My mother refused to fill out the questionnaire and insisted she was fine, but she did express that she wished she had not survived. It was a couple of years later that she finally took antidepressants; they helped immensely.

After a stroke, a person may feel fatigue, depression, anxiety, or develop behavior changes. You might think your loved one is inconsiderate or self-centered when in fact they are just confused. When communicating with a loved one after a stroke remember the following:

  1. Speak face-to-face
  2. Limit environmental distractions
  3. Speak clearly, slowly, and measured
  4. Keep instructions simple
  5. Treat the person as an adult
  6. Allow time for an answer

My mother’s life changed after this experience. She was forced to sell her car as well as her house and move to Parksville into a Senior Residence. She was a block from a store and a drugstore and had the option of ordering meals from the residence. She could still go for short walks by holding the dog’s leash with her good hand and allowing the tension to keep her upright as she stepped on her left foot. It is amazing how we can adapt!

Please memorize the symptoms of a stroke and be aware. Strokes can happen at all ages, but if you are spending time with a senior, be extra aware. With the appropriate knowledge, you can help them maintain their present lifestyle.

Additional Resources:

Heart & Stroke

American Stroke Foundation

Stroke Awareness Foundation