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Does Your Direct Care Staff Know the Warning Signs of a Stroke?

For most assisted living facilities, personal care attendants and other direct care staff are typically offered in-service training sessions for one hour, once a month regarding topics that directly concern their scope of responsibility for documentation, resident safety, etc. Discussions on specific resident health conditions often can be overlooked. This can be a tragic missed opportunity, especially when they are the only health care professional at hand who residents depend upon when a crisis strikes, such as a stroke.

An easy way to curb this is to teach your direct care staff how to recognize the warning signs of a stroke, as there is an abundance of information on this topic all around us. According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in America. People over 55 years old have a higher chance of stroke, and the risk increases as you age. Men, African Americans and people with diabetes or heart disease are at highest risk for stroke.

Knowing the warning signs of a stroke is important because you can act quickly. If you call 9-1-1 immediately, you can reduce the effects of a stroke and possibly save a life. The warning signs of a stroke are:

  • 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; and
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

FAST is an easy way to remember how to recognize and what to do if you suspect a stroke is occurring.

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time – If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

A stroke should always be considered an emergency because, with quick action, an ischemic stroke often can be treated with a clot-busting drug that improves the chances of recovery if given within 3 to 4.5 hours from when the symptoms begin.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain becomes blocked (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). Once that happens, part of the brain no longer works, and neither can the part of the body it controls.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) are "warning strokes" that can occur before a major stroke. They happen when a blood clot clogs an artery for a short time. The signs of a TIA are like a stroke, but usually last a few minutes.

Unfortunately, those who have had a stroke are five times more likely to have another one. Rehabilitation can help address the lasting effects of a stroke, but may not fix everything. Stroke affects the rehab process because it causes changes in emotion, communication and cognition, as well as physical changes. Eighty percent of people experience incontinence after a stroke, which can lead to skin breakdown, and 75 percent are depressed due to changes in the brain and their overall functioning. Other complications include swallowing difficulties that can lead to aspiration, dehydration that can lead to urinary tract infections and hemi-paralysis that can lead to spasticity, or muscle contractions affecting ability to control movement.

To help staff remember the warning signs of a stroke, posters can be placed in employee break rooms and common areas. Additionally, resource materials can be found by contacting the American Heart Association or the National Stroke Association (NSA).

 
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