Strokes kill more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer in Australia each year alone. But there are also 475,000 people living with the effects of having experienced a stroke.
While most people know how deadly they can be, many don’t talk about what happens to a person and their health after they have a stroke.
This year alone, more than 56,000 new and recurrent strokes will be reordered, costing the country $5 billion. In addition, 30 per cent of those who experience a stroke are of working age and under 65, while as many as 65 per cent of stroke survivors also suffer a disability which impacts their ability to go about daily activities without assistance.
“Just as every stroke is different, the impact of stroke varies,” Toni Aslett, Stroke Foundation Executive Director tells Starts at 60. “Stroke can have a devastating impact.
“It can lead to paralysis of the face, arm or leg, blurred vision, difficulties in communicating, speaking memory or understanding.”
Physical symptoms of a stroke, such as a drooping mouth or a person being paralysed, can be quite noticeable, but many are unaware that having a stroke can also cause issues that can’t be seen including fatigue, anxiety and even depression.
“Recovering from a stroke can be a long and challenging journey physically and mentally, but in some good news, many people are able to return to work, drive again, enjoy their favourite pastimes and live life well,” Aslett says. “For this to happen, a stroke must be diagnosed and treated quickly.”
For many, several drugs can prove effective enough to prevent another stroke from occurring, while carotid endarterectomy surgery may also be required to remove plaque that has caused arteries to block and prevent blood flow to the brain. Additionally, up to 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented, meaning managing blood pressure and cholesterol, along with healthy eating, exercise and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of a stroke.
Once a person does experience a stroke, rehabilitation can assist them in maximising their life. It typically begins as early as possible in an acute stroke unit or medical ward, while ongoing support may be needed for some stroke survivors. In this case, rehab is usually offered at inpatient rehabilitation units, in hospitals, at community facilities or even at home.
There are also a number of resources and help available to help not only stroke survivors, but their families. The first is the My Stroke Journey pack, which is offered through the Stroke Foundation.
“This information pack is delivered by hospitals and provides high quality information and fact sheets for stroke survivors, their families and carers. It is designed to support care planning and the transition from hospital to home,” Aslett notes.
Through the Stroke Connect service, stroke survivors can be connected with carers, services and other support, while Strokeline (1800 787 653) is a free and confidential telephone counselling and referral service that offers information and advice on stroke prevention, treatment and recovery.
“Stroke attacks the brain, our most vital organ, and can change lives in an instant – not only for the individual, but their loved ones too,” Aslett explains. “Our stroke risk does increase as we age and that is why it is so important to visit your GP regularly and take control or your health.”
If you think you or someone you love is experiencing a stroke, dial triple-zero immediately and remember the F.A.S.T test (check their face and whether their mouth is drooped, if they can lift both their arms, whether their speech is slurred and that time is critical and action should be taken if you notice any symptoms).