From the Philadelphia Gay News

July 16, 2015

By Joseph Quinn

The word “stroke” can have many meanings: the fond caress of a loved one or pet; vigorous activity, as in golf, rowing or swimming; or a philosophy of life, as in “different strokes for different folks.” But there’s a definition many of us would rather not think about. This type of stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when the normal flow of blood to the brain is interrupted, depriving brain cells of oxygen and other nutrients.

Stroke is our country’s number-five cause of death, killing about 129,000 people a year. Those between 55-85 are most at risk. The most common form of stroke occurs when a blood clot, usually originating in the heart, makes its way to the brain and blocks an artery. Another cause is a burst artery, or hemorrhage, that causes blood to pool among brain cells or between the brain and skull.

There are certain effects on the brain and body that signal the onset of a stroke, and you should never ignore them. These include numbness, usually of an arm or leg on one side of the body; weakness or loss of vision; trouble speaking and loss of balance or coordination. There are a few classic signs of a stroke that are part of an easy-to-remember acronym: F.A.S.T.

F — Face: Smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A — Arms: Raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S — Speech: Repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or strange?

T —Time: Time lost is brain lost.

If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately, or have someone call for you. The sooner you get to the emergency room, the better your chances of reversing the effects of a stroke. If symptoms seem to resolve quickly, still seek medical help immediately. It’s a sign a more serious stroke may occur soon.

Stroke is the number-one preventable cause of disability. Approximately 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by taking these lifestyle precautions:

• Lower your blood pressure (hypertension is the leading stroke-risk factor)

• Lower your cholesterol

• Stop smoking

• Drink alcohol in moderation

• Control your blood sugar

• Exercise daily

About two-thirds of stroke survivors will have disabilities ranging from moderate to severe. The effect that most LGBT seniors probably dread is a loss of independence. Many of us live alone and take pride in being able to care for ourselves. But a stroke can cruelly eliminate or diminish our ability to hold a job or meet our most basic daily needs: shopping, cooking, eating, handling personal finances. It can even affect our ability to take care of such intimate functions as dressing, toileting, bathing and having sex. Of course, there are resources for stroke victims in the form of speech, physical and occupational therapy and psychological counseling, all of which can help restore vital mental and physical functions.

The best way to ensure survival of a stroke is to proactively build up the resources you may need during and after a stroke. Above all, don’t isolate yourself. Maintain support networks among biological and chosen families, colleagues, neighbors and friends. Stay active physically and mentally. Find hobbies or interests you enjoy that keep you alert. Find volunteer work that keeps you engaged in the community. Have regular check-ups with culturally competent medical providers and discuss your expectations with them should you lose certain mental and physical capacities. Have an attorney prepare the necessary directives that spell out who can speak and act for you if you become incapacitated. Talk to your insurance provider to find out the extent of your coverage for medical, therapeutic and other long- and short-term-care needs. Take care of your own mental, emotional and spiritual health. Avoid or minimize stress through mindfulness, meditation, prayer — whatever works for you. These precautions may not guarantee you won’t have a stroke, but they might make it easier for you to deal with the consequences and bounce back to normal after.

The following sources provide information on preventing and detecting strokes:

Stroke Help Line: 1-800-strokes (787-6537)

National Stroke Association: www.stroke.org

American Stroke Association: 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653);

www.strokeassociation.org

A F.A.S.T. mobile app is available for

download from www.strokeassociation.org/warningsigns

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health: www.ninds.nih.gov