According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, stroke is now understood to be a powerful predictor of dementia — one-third of dementia risk can be attributed to stroke. Knowing if you’re at risk is the greatest preventative tool we have, as nine out of ten Canadian’s have at least one risk factor for stroke or heart disease.
What is a Stroke?
When one of the blood vessels that keep the brain supplied with oxygen gets blocked or bursts, the brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs to function, therefore causing damage to the brain cells. The effects of a stroke are determined by what part of the brain has been damaged and the severity of that damage. However, surprisingly, having a stroke more than doubles your chance of developing Dementia.
Types of Stroke
When talking about Dementia and Strokes, there are two categories of strokes: Clinical and Covert. Clinical strokes are indicated by the F.A.S.T signs (described below), however, Covert strokes are far less obvious and may not show any physical or functional signs or symptoms. It’s the presence of Covert strokes that a person may begin to show signs of dementia.
Heart & Stroke Canada states that research is revealing more about the impact of covert strokes:
Covert strokes occur five times as often as more obvious (or clinical) strokes.
Covert strokes are responsible for at least one-third of all dementia.
These covert strokes weaken connections among various parts of your brain and affect “executive function” — a set of mental processes that help you get things done. These include planning, organization, processing information, multi-tasking, problem solving, decision making, reasoning and finding your way around.
Three main types of strokes are:
Ischemic stroke – Caused by a blockage or clot in a blood vessel in your brain. Most strokes fall under this category. The blockage or clot may be caused by plaque build up in an artery (either within the brain or another artery in the body) and increases in size, large enough to block the blood flow to the brain.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is caused by a small clot that briefly blocks an artery. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke or warning stroke. TIAs are an important warning that a more serious stroke may occur soon, as its symptoms may last minutes to an hour in length. They are a medical emergency – call 9-1-1.
Hemorrhagic stroke – This type of stroke is caused when an artery in the brain breaks open. The interrupted blood flow causes damage to your brain. One of the main causes of this type of stroke is the presence of high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes weaken the arteries and this weakness, called aneurysms, can stretch too far and eventually burst.
Signs & Symptoms of Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency, so if you or a loved one experiences the following signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
The FAST signs of a stroke are the most common signs of a stroke and are more likely to be caused by a stroke than any other condition. Strokes generally don’t give you much advance notice. Symptoms come on suddenly and unexpectedly and they can also include:
Sudden numbness or weakness of 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.
Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Risks and Prevention
It’s been known that the older you get, the more at risk you are to developing a stroke or dementia. However, due to the rise in stroke risk factors, people as young as 40 or 50 are developing dementia. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, almost 80% of premature stroke and heart disease can be prevented through healthy behaviors. That means that habits like eating healthy, being active and living smoke free, have a big impact on your health.
Remember that the damage caused by a stroke can effect all areas of your life – relationships, mobility, life skills, and cognitive brain functioning. Understanding your risk factors are key to helping to prevent the onset of a stroke and the development of dementia and other conditions.