The National Stroke Association explains that a stroke results from either bleeding or an obstruction of blood flow to the brain. It’s the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, but 75 percent of strokes are preventable. Adults over 65 are at greater risk of stroke than younger adults, so it’s important to know some warning signs so you or your loved ones can take action and reduce the risk of having a stroke. Here are some stroke risks in seniors to watch out for. If you notice any, contact your doctor right away and seek immediate medical attention. The sooner you begin treatment, the better the outcome will be.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common risk factors for stroke in family members who are over 65. Hypertension also puts them at an increased risk for heart disease and other types of cardiovascular diseases. Keeping your blood pressure under control is essential to avoid stroke and other health problems as you age. If your blood pressure is high, speak with your doctor about medications and changes in lifestyle to help lower it.
It’s not just about lung cancer. Experts estimate that there are at least 15,000 smoking-related strokes every year. Cigarette smoke causes your arteries to harden and restricts blood flow, raising your stroke risk—plus you’re more likely to have heart disease, another leading cause of stroke. Throw in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by smoking, and you have an even higher risk factor for stroke. If your parent or other loved one smokes cigarettes now, encourage them to quit. Make it clear that you don’t want them anywhere near your home if they continue to smoke.
As your age increases, your risk for stroke increases. Most often, this is caused by things like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. While diabetes doesn’t directly cause these health issues, having diabetes might make it harder to control them by promoting inflammation in your body, which can damage blood vessels in many different ways. It can also cause your circulatory system to lose some elasticity over time. If you’re diabetic or are considering becoming one—or if someone in your family has type 2 diabetes—it may be smart to check with a doctor about how it might affect stroke risk later on down the road.
High Blood Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol levels are linked to stroke in adults over 65. It’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis, especially after you turn 40 years old. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg, while hypertension starts at 140/90 mm Hg. Don’t try to self-diagnose; talk with your doctor if you feel like your blood pressure is abnormally high or elevated when you exercise.
Excessive drinking in older adults is associated with an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which accounts for about 10% to 15% of all strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by bleeding into or around blood vessels. Many brain cells can die when they are deprived of oxygen-rich blood. Alcohol can affect your blood pressure, which causes an increase in your chance of stroke. If you are 65 or older and have high blood pressure, it’s especially important to talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you drink because it could be increasing your chances of developing high blood pressure-related stroke.
A Diet High in Fat
High fat diets can lead to high cholesterol. They can also clog arteries and block blood flow to parts of your brain. As a result, you’re more likely to have a stroke or experience other cardiac problems. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to reduce your fat intake while increasing healthy fats—like avocados and nuts—in your diet. Consider upping your consumption of these foods as you age, as they’ll help lower cholesterol and improve heart health in general. If all else fails, reducing or cutting out meat altogether may be necessary to regulate cholesterol levels.