ORANGE — Q. My 81-year-old aunt called recently and casually said the left side of her body “felt funny.” I had just gotten off a plane, and I went straight to Aunt Rosie’s house and took her to the hospital. It turns out that she had suffered a minor stroke, and she’s O.K. She lives alone, and I still don’t think she understands the urgency. Is this common with seniors?
Aunt Rosie isn’t the first stroke victim who has viewed her symptoms as minor. Despite efforts to inform the public of the urgency for rapid treatment for stroke victims and the effective treatments available, the number of patients using an ambulance for rapid transportation to a treatment center has not changed since the mid-1990s.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center said their research highlights the need for even more education about strokes.
The study, led by Dr. Hooman Kamel, a neurologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell and assistant professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, analyzed data collected by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 1997 and 2008. “People do not always recognize the seriousness of stroke symptoms, or instead of calling 911, they may call their primary care physician for an appointment and lose valuable time as the damage becomes irreversible,” Dr. Kamel said.
The study found that 51 percent of adults diagnosed with stroke in emergency departments nationwide arrived via ambulance, with no significant change during the 11 years. Dr. Kamel said recovery is possible with early treatment. “We have drugs and surgeries that can minimize brain damage from a stroke,’’ he said, “but they can be used only within a few short hours.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a 911 call should be made if any of these symptoms are experienced:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the 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.
While Aunt Rosie should be aware of those symptoms, it also might be time to consider additional support. A Home Instead CAREGiverSM could help with medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping, companionship, transportation, errands and shopping, and serve as a second set of eyes to make sure she is safe at home.