Signs of a Stroke: Act FAST

29 May 2019

In her fourth blog for us, Beth Britton writes about the importance of knowing the signs of a stroke and how to find sources of support after a stroke.

With the recent news that stroke deaths in England have halved in a decade, you might be forgiven for thinking that strokes are no longer something to be feared. But while this latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows survival rates are improving, many survivors experience extensive post-stroke disabilities with almost two thirds of people leaving hospital after a stroke doing so with a disability.

Stroke and the F.A.S.T test

When a stroke – otherwise known as a brain attack – strikes, the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, killing brain cells. In the UK, there are more than 100,000 strokes every year, meaning every 5 minutes someone’s brain is being attacked by a stroke. The effects of a stroke can be minimised the sooner a person receives medical treatment, and with this in mind the F.A.S.T test was created. To know if someone is having a stroke, you can do the F.A.S.T test by observing the person.

How is a person affected after a stroke?

Damage to the brain from a stroke can affect a person in multiple ways, including having problems with communication, swallowing, breathing and eyesight, arm, hand and leg weakness, bowel and bladder control problems, pins and needles, muscle and joint pain, numb skin, and problems with balance. There are many psychological effects too, with a third of stroke survivors experiencing depression.

In addition, cognitive problems can be significant, and while for some people difficulties with memory and thinking improve during their rehabilitation, for others these issues worsen and develop into vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and can develop as a result of a single stroke or a series of mini-strokes (otherwise known as TIA’s – Transient Ischemic Attacks). Around 20% of people who have a stroke go on to develop vascular dementia. You can find out more about how stroke affects a person from the NHS.

Life after stroke

Most people who have a stroke never expected to have one and are ill-prepared for the potential long-term effects on their body and their life. Rehabilitation can be a lengthy process, and although the greatest progress is often made in the weeks immediately following a stroke, it is known that the brain’s ability to ‘re-wire’ itself, otherwise called neuroplasticity, is such that improvements can be seen months or even years later.

This is perhaps best explained by actress Sharon Stone, who said of her recovery from a stroke aged 43:

When I came home after the stroke, I could barely walk. My hip was unstable. I couldn’t see out of my left eye and I couldn’t hear out of my left ear. I couldn’t write my name for almost three years. I couldn’t get my arm to listen to my mind, so I had to learn to read and write again. I had to learn to speak again. It took years for the feeling to come back to my left leg, but it finally came back. My vision also came back and my directional hearing is much better, although every now and then I still ask people, ‘Can you please sit on the other side?”

In the UK, there are around 1.2 million stroke survivors, amongst them BBC Presenter Andrew Marr, who said of his life after a stroke aged 53:

“What I have to emphasise is: it’s not the great big existential questions; it’s that yet again it takes 35 minutes to get dressed; yet again you drop the toast on the floor; yet again you find you can’t walk from A to B properly. It’s the small things that accumulate and make life a bit [harder] than it otherwise would be.”

Sources of support

There are numerous sources of advice for people who’ve experienced stroke in the UK, most notably the Stroke Association who offer both extensive information about strokes and support after stroke.

For the 1 in 4 people of working age or younger who experience stroke, the charity Different Strokes exists to promote independent stroke recovery and help younger stroke survivors reclaim their lives. They do this though a number of initiatives, including peer support.

Finally, InterAct Stroke Support have pioneered the use of professional actors to deliver a stimulating and rich variety of reading material specially selected to suit the needs of stroke patients. They have found that following a stroke, reading and conversational interaction stimulates the brain, boosts memory and communication skills, improves mood and alleviates depression.

About the author:

Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com

Promedica24 and Stroke:

To find out more about how Promedica’s live-in care can help to support a stroke survivor and their family, please visit https://www.promedica24.co.uk/types-of-care/condition-led-care/stroke-care-at-home/ or you can call 0800 086 8686 or email care@promedica24.co.uk


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