Care home and eldercare experts, Helping Hands, share their expertise on stroke treatments for older patients…
A stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the blood and oxygen supply to part of the brain is blocked or cut off. Unfortunately, strokes are common amongst the elderly, and according to the NHS,“you’re more likely to have a stroke if you’re over 55.”
However, with the right care and treatment, it is still possible to live an independent life at home. It is essential to be aware that prompt treatment is required for any stroke to decrease the risk of brain damage and other health complications. Also, the therapies available for older patients may differ from the medical treatment given to others. Let us explain…
Why Treatment of Stroke in Elderly Patients is Different
A stroke can impact individuals in different ways; for some, the effects may be minor and they can recover faster, whereas, for others, strokes can have a life-changing impact. Here are just some of the reasons why the treatment of stroke in older patients is different:
Shrinking of Blood Vessels
The Stroke Association states that as we age, “our arteries naturally become narrower and harder” and “more likely to become clogged with fatty material”, leading to an ischaemic stroke; the most common type of stroke. This is one of the leading causes of stroke amongst older people, but it can be treated with medication and treatment.
Higher Risk of Mortality
Age plays a significant risk in any condition and life expectancy after a stroke can decrease. This can be due to weakness in health and lack of mobility. Healthline states, “regular exercise appears to lower chances of developing a blood clot.” If older individuals are unable to stay active, this can cause blood clots which can lead to a stroke. Therefore, extra support and attention are required.
Recovery Can be Slow
As we age, it takes a lot longer to recover from injuries and specific conditions like stroke. So older patients may need extra support from healthcare professionals to help with physiotherapy, mobility and speech. Also, lifestyle changes such as controlling cholesterol, managing diabetes and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle can help with recovery.
Stroke Types and Causes
There are two main types of strokes: ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke. They are both treated as medical emergencies, but the treatment process differs.
Ischaemic Strokes – Blockage Cutting off Blood Supply
An ischaemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. The NHS states, “they happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.” This is due to the arteries becoming narrower or blocked due to fatty deposits.
However, age isn’t just the only factor that can cause your arteries to narrow. Smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and excessive alcohol intake can also contribute to this.
Haemorrhagic Strokes – Bleeding Around the Brain
According to the NHS, haemorrhagic strokes “happen when a blood vessel inside the skull bursts and bleeds into and around the brain.” The leading cause of haemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure, which can be caused by obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol, stress and lack of exercise.
A brain aneurysm can also cause a haemorrhagic stroke. A brain aneurysm is when a blood vessel ruptures and can be caused due to a variety of factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, family history and age.
Different Treatments for Elderly Ischaemic Strokes
The NHS states, “Ischaemic strokes can often be treated using injections of a medicine called alteplase, which dissolves blood clots and restores blood flow to the brain.” It is also known as thrombolysis. It is said to be most effective if the treatment is given immediately after a stroke. However, healthcare professionals must confirm that it is an ischaemic stroke before providing the injection. This is usually done by conducting a brain scan.
Many people are given aspirin straight after an ischaemic stroke, which works as a painkiller and reduces blood clots from forming. Other medications that can be given are clopidogrel and dipyridamole. Blood pressure medication may also be prescribed if your loved one’s blood pressure is high. Some patients may be offered anticoagulants which “help reduce their risk of developing new blood clots in the future” (NHS).
Physiotherapists are available if your loved one struggles with motor skills and mobility. They work with your loved one and carry out exercises to help strengthen movement and balance. Speech therapists are also available to help with speech impairment and occupational therapists support those who have difficulty carrying out daily activities. So, there is plenty of help available.
However, prevention is always the best remedy for any condition, including stroke. Although prevention isn’t always possible, making lifestyle changes can lower the risk. This includes healthy eating, exercise, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
Different Treatment for Elderly Haemorrhagic Strokes
Surgery is usually required when your loved one has had a haemorrhagic stroke. The surgical procedure involves removing blood from the brain and repairing any blood vessels that have burst. Another procedure can be done to treat the fluid build-up in the brain’s ventricles, which causes vomiting, sickness, headaches and drowsiness.
Short-term treatments may be required to manage the effects of a stroke. According to the NHS, these include a feeding tube for those with difficulty swallowing and fluids provided through the vein to prevent dehydration. If your loved one has low oxygen levels, oxygen can be given through a face mask or nasal tube. Also, compression stockings can help to prevent blood clots in the legs.
Support from Healthcare Professionals
Your loved one will receive care from medical and healthcare professionals to help with their recovery. They may need support from physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists. Depending on your loved one’s recovery, a community stroke nurse and social worker may also be involved in their aftercare.
With over 30 years' experience providing individually tailored home care across England and Wales, Helping Hands offer expert support at home ranging from 30-minute visits up to full-time live-in care. And if you need fast-response support, Helping Hands can often begin your bespoke care plan within 24 hours of your initial enquiry.
For more information, please call 0808 163 9755 or visit www.helpinghands.co.uk