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Monitor seniors' health during American Stroke Month

For families with aging loved ones, few serious health risks present the same level of concern as an unexpected stroke.

In the U.S., someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds; more than 75 percent of these incidents occur in people older than the age of 65.

Fortunately, fewer than 20 percent of all strokes are fatal. Unfortunately, most stroke survivors suffer some lingering health effects that affect long-term quality of life.

May is American Stroke Month and across the area, Senior Helpers, a leading national and local in-home care provider that cares for stroke survivors every day, is spreading awareness about the prevalence of stroke among aging Americans.

Although strokes can seemingly strike without warning, families are encouraged to talk to their aging parents and grandparents about some simple lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk.

"Stroke can sometimes be a scary topic that aging seniors don't want to talk or even think about, but it's important for concerned family members to realize that stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, and the risks go up drastically with age," said Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers. "After a close family member suffers a stroke, there is a high likelihood that they will require a little bit more help and a little bit more attention to live their daily life."

Stroke facts

• Strokes are the sudden damage or loss of a section of brain cells caused by restricted flow of oxygen to the brain, usually due to hardened arteries or blood clots.

• Stroke is the leading cause of disability and third leading cause of death across the country.

• Almost 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year, and more than 185,000 of these are recurrent attacks.

• Chances of having a stroke doubles each decade after turning 55.

• 90 percent of all stroke victims suffer lingering, long-term effects.

• The latest research from the American Stroke Association shows women tend to be at slightly greater risk of suffering a fatal stroke than men.

• Also, seniors living in the Southeast are more at-risk than those in most other geographic regions.

• There are a number of factors that increase the risk of stroke, including age, family history, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and medical history involving previous episodes or symptoms of stroke.

However, some basic and simple lifestyle changes can reduce the overall risk for millions of aging Americans.

Prevention tips

• Exercise regularly to reduce high blood pressure.

• Avoid high fat and cholesterol foods on a regular basis.

• For seniors with or at risk of diabetes, keep blood sugar levels under control.

• Reduce sodium in daily diet

• Quit smoking immediately.

Warning signs

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body.

• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking and understanding.

• Sudden trouble seeing out of one eye.

• Sudden trouble walking or loss of balance.

• Sudden, severe headaches without cause.