skilled nurse checking in on her patient

Explaining the Effects of a Stroke on the Elderly

Strokes occur when there is a change to the blood flow through the brain. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells and, when that is disturbed, the brain does not receive enough oxygen to function as needed. If the cells in the brain are without oxygen for a short period of time, they may recover. However, the longer the cells are without oxygen, the more serious the recovery may be.

Knowing the signs of a stroke can help a caregiver to act quickly and acting fast can make an enormous difference in the effects of a stroke on the elderly. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Sudden problems with vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or trouble walking
  • Sudden severe headache with no apparent cause
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Sudden weakness in the face, leg or arm, especially on one side of the body

If you believe that you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 immediately. If you are caring for a loved one after a stroke, the recovery process may seem daunting. It can be helpful if caregivers understand what has happened, what to expect, the stroke recovery stages and how find the right support on this journey.

Effects of a Stroke on the Elderly

According to the National Institute on Aging, strokes are among the leading cause of death and disability in the US. Elderly patients are at a greater risk for strokes in general, as well as being more likely to require a prolonged hospital stay. In fact, 66 percent of patients hospitalized during or after a stroke are age 65 or older.

For most patients, it can take between six to 12 months of intensive rehabilitation to recover after a stroke. So, how many stroke patients make a full recovery? The ability to recover and the length of time for recovery will vary between individuals. The quality of care a patient receives after a stroke is crucial. Senior care communities, like Stratford Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, offer patients access to services such as occupational, physical and speech therapy, that can greatly improve the odds of an improved recovery process.

When discussing the effects of a stroke on the elderly, many people wonder how much age plays a role. Questions such as ‘can an 80-year-old recover from a stroke?’ or ‘can a 70-year-old recover from a stroke?’ are often discussed among families with aging loved ones. The good news is that, thanks to advancements in medical science, seniors up into their 80s and 90s are having better recovery outcomes than ever before following a stroke. For seniors of advanced age, as with any stroke patients, one of the most important things is for the patient to be surrounded by the right support and that they have access to the right kinds of care.

Stroke Recovery Stages

Recovering from a stroke is a long and difficult journey. It is best to begin this journey with a supportive, knowledgeable team and a positive outlook. There are seven stroke recovery stages:

#1 Flaccidity

In this first stage of recovery, you lack control of your limb or limbs. This takes place while the brain is still recovering and is unable to communicate with your muscles. In this early stage, it is important to keep safety in mind and reduce the risk of further injury. Patients should also do mental movements where you picture yourself completing a physical movement. Additionally, passive range of motion exercises can help prevent stiffness in muscles and joints.

#2 Spasticity Appears

During the second stage of recovery, small movements develop that are not voluntary. This indicates the beginning of a connection between the muscles and the brain. Movements might be small, like a twitch or a finger curling, but it is exciting to see movement!

#3 Spasticity Increases

The third of the stroke recovery stages is when signals from the brain begin to cause the muscles to continually contract. Some patients rely on medications or tools, such as braces, to reduce spasticity and muscle tightness. In this stage, it is valuable for you to move your joints to prevent tightness and stiffness. Your therapy team can teach you techniques for stretching and exercises to help with daily tasks.

#4 Spasticity Decreases

This stage is an exciting one! You will begin to have more voluntary control, decreasing stiffness and potentially the ability to perform certain isolated movements. This is a perfect time to begin learning some new exercises, work on building strength and continue to use brainpower. Your abilities will continue to grow as you work your program, so this is not a time to slow down.

#5 Complex Movement Returns

Uncontrolled, jerky movements begin to go away as voluntary movements become more complex. You may be able to resume some daily tasks that require complex movements, such as grasping a cup. As you learn to regain control of your muscle movements, you may be able to incorporate more complex exercises into your routine.

#6 Spasticity Disappears

In stage six, spasticity is gone and your joints can move independently. This is a time to focus on improving your general skills, improving your endurance and coordination and participating in activities you find challenging and fun.

#7 Normal Function Returns

By stage seven, you have achieved muscle control and full range of motion. This is a great time to celebrate by starting to build a healthy lifestyle going forward and putting support measures in place to keep you on track.

Helping Stroke Patients Make a Full Recovery

The timeline of recovery after a stroke looks different for everyone. While the brain has an amazing ability to rejuvenate and repair itself, there are many pieces that must fall into place. This makes it difficult for even trained experts to provide a precise timeline for recovery.

At Stratford Commons Rehab, we understand that one of the most important tools for recovery is a safe, positive, supportive environment. There are many care paths a family can choose from when selecting the right level of support for their loved one. Options include:

  • Home care with family members
  • Independent home care
  • Outpatient rehabilitation
  • Nursing home rehabilitation
  • Inpatient rehabilitation

Inpatient rehab communities, like Stratford Commons Rehab, and skilled nursing care facilities have excellent success rates in supporting patients after a stroke. Direct care is provided through all the stroke recovery stages, as well as on-site therapies tailored to the specific patient’s needs. It is important to discuss these options with the team at the hospital prior to selecting a post-hospitalization care plan or environment. And, no matter the location, the very most important parts of recovery are a positive attitude, commitment to recovery and hope for the future.

Planning ahead takes pressure off of families in difficult situations. Schedule a tour of Stratford Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center today to understand how we can support you and your family.