FAST: The Acronym Every Senior and Everyone Who Is Around Seniors Should Know

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a stroke happens every 40 seconds. They take the lives of over 140,000 Americans every year—at the pace of 1 person every 4 minutes.

Seniors are more prone to strokes, and quick medical treatment is absolutely necessary to increase survival. What does FAST have to do with strokes? Here’s what you need to know.

Early Action

The chances that you will survive a stroke increase when you receive emergency treatment as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that people who get treatment within 3 hours of the first symptoms of a stroke experience less disability than those who receive delayed care.

The CDC also reports that nearly 75% of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, making it the 5th leading cause of death in our country. The American Heart Association reports that while the percentage of strokes has increased as a result of heart disease, the actual number of stroke deaths has declined. This is largely due to FAST.

What is a Stroke?

Strokes occur when the blood flow to a certain area of the brain gets cut off. The cells in this area of the brain begin to die because they are starved of oxygen. The resulting damage causes loss of muscle control or memory. Serious strokes are fatal.

Here’s the thing about a stroke: they may not be obvious. Television and movies may be entertaining, but they aren’t always realistic. Transient ischemic attacks—also known as mini strokes—have symptoms that are short-lived or may even spontaneously resolve.

FAST

There are 4 common signs of a stroke, and that’s where FAST comes in. These symptoms often appear suddenly, so if you see them in a senior—or someone of any age—it’s important to get immediate medical help.

  • Face: Ask them to smile. Does it appear uneven?
  • Arms: Ask them to raise both arms and hold them level to the floor. Does one arm drift downwards?
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple phrase, like “Let’s have tacos for lunch today.” Do they slur their words, or maybe even miss a few?
  • Time: This isn’t a symptom—it’s a reminder of what to do. Fast medical treatment is crucial. It’s time to call for emergency medical help.

Make a note of the time if you should happen to notice any of the FAST symptoms. This piece of information is important to medical professionals. Clot-busting drugs called tissue plasminogen activators reduce long-term disability for certain kinds of strokes. This type of medication, however, is approved for stroke treatment only if given within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Heart Failure In Seniors: Know The Signs

The American Heart Association reports that nearly 6 million Americans have some form of heart disease. It’s one of the top reasons why people over the age of 65 are taken to the hospital.

While it’s important that a medical professional make the diagnosis, there are signs to look for if you suspect that someone under your care may be experiencing heart failure.

Start With the Definition

Heart failure is the term used to describe a condition. It means that the heart is weakened and is not pumping blood as well as it should. When the heart can’t do its job, our kidneys cause the body to retain salt and water. Fluid builds up and our body becomes congested. This becomes known as congestive heart failure.

Heart failure in seniors causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing.

Common Symptoms

Heart failure is usually diagnosed because someone experiences more than one of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath. Pay attention of a senior complains of difficulty breathing while they’re lying flat.
  • Persistent wheezing or coughing. Pay attention if this coughing produces pink or white mucus.
  • Edema. Pay attention if a senior complains of swelling in their feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen.
  • Fatigue. Pay attention if a senior tells you they’re feeling tired all the time, or if they’re suddenly feeling fatigued by everyday activities like walking.
  • Appetite changes. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel nauseated, or if they lose their appetite.
  • Impaired thinking. Pay attention if a senior suddenly appears to be confused—especially if it’s accompanied by memory loss.
  • Increased heart rate. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel as if their heart is throbbing or racing.

We all have days when we just don’t feel right, so it’s usually nothing to be concerned about if a senior tells you they’re experiencing one of these symptoms. They’re all signs of possible heart failure, but each can be caused by many other things.

On the other hand, if you notice multiple symptoms, it’s wise to seek out a medical professional. Heart failure is a serious condition. There’s often no cure, but heart failure in seniors can be treated and managed with medications.

A Better Night’s Sleep? Tips For Seniors.

You’ve probably heard it said that the older you get, the less sleep you need. It’s why seniors are such early birds. There’s another reason why seniors get up early, and often wake up repeatedly all night. 

Often, seniors in nursing care homes are living with chronic pain. Sleeping in a position that doesn’t support their body creates pressure that amplifies the pain. A better night’s sleep can be as close as applying a few of these simple tips to align and support the body.

Start with Comfort and Alignment

When we’re younger, an aligned and neutral sleeping position keeps our spines straight and our lower backs in a natural slightly curved position. This comfortable alignment may not work for seniors.

Kyphosis, or rounded back will prevent seniors from being able to lie flat on their back. For them, an aligned and neutral sleeping position is going to be on their side with their spine supported for a curve—rather than straightened.

Some of the tips offered here call for pillows. Try a folded blanket or a rolled towel before you invest in additional pillows.

Are They a Side Sleeper?

  • Reduce pressure on the upper shoulder by adding a pillow under that arm
  • Use enough pillows to raise the head and maintain a neutral position that aligns the spine with the neck
  • Add a pillow between the knees to align the pelvis, hips, and spine

Are They a Back Sleeper?

  • Use a thin pillow under the head to prevent forward bending of the neck
  • Add a pillow under the knees, which will help to keep the lower back in a neutral position

Are They a Stomach Sleeper?

Sleeping on your stomach isn’t a good idea because it’s hard on the back—but many people prefer this position.

  • Seniors with degenerative disk disease may prefer this position because it offers ease from the pain
  • Consider not using a pillow at all for their head
  • Instead, put a thin pillow under the stomach or pelvis areas

Do They Prefer a Reclining Chair Instead of a Bed?

Sleeping in this position helps relieve the pain of isthmic spondylolisthesis, which seniors can suffer from. The reclined position helps to remove pressure on the spine.

  • You can mimic a reclining chair by using a bed wedge. It’s less expensive than an adjustable bed

Helping seniors to get a good night’s sleep has an important additional benefit. You’ll finally get some rest, too.

Helpful Tips for Hearing Impaired Seniors

Age isn’t the only thing that can impair our hearing, but as we grow older it’s a common occurrence. It’s frustrating—for both those who can no longer hear well, and for those who are their caregivers.

Older adults who experience hearing loss often struggle with everyday things we take for granted, such as knowing when there’s someone at the door, reacting to threatening situations like smoke alarms, or even everyday conversations. Here are some ways to help them—and yourself if you care for someone who needs to hear what’s going on around them.

Start With Developing the Right Attitude

It’s not their fault. Hearing impairment as we age is caused by physical changes in our ears. It can also be caused by damage to the auditory nerve, or even the ability for the brain to process sound. It can be one of these, or a combination of all three.

There are also at least 200 common medications which are known as “ototoxic.” This means that they affect our ability to hear. The primary sign of an ototoxic reaction to a medication is often tinnitus, or ringing in your ears. It’s important to seek out medical advice if you suspect that medications may be the cause of hearing impairment.

In almost all cases, hearing loss is a physical thing. Unfortunately, it also has psychological and emotional impacts. First of all, it’s embarrassing. People handle this kind of frustration in different ways. Seniors may become angry or agitated because of a hearing impairment. Or, they may become distant and less responsive to what’s happening around them because it’s just too difficult to distinguish what they’re hearing.

This hearing impairment can also affect caregivers. It can be extremely frustrating and exhausting to constantly repeat what’s been said. This is why it’s crucial to remember that you’re dealing with something that’s a constant source of frustration for seniors with hearing impairment. 

The Answer Isn’t Always Hearing Aids

These medical devices can make an amazing difference. Today’s digital instruments go far beyond just amplifying general sound. After a thorough test, the hearing aids are “tuned” to amplify only the frequencies that the wearer can no longer hear.

While the technology has improved, the cost of quality hearing aids remains expensive. It’s not uncommon to pay thousands of dollars per hearing aid. Some medical insurance policies will cover some of the cost.

The devices are meant to be small and unobtrusive—which means that they might not be an optimal solution for some seniors. Others just don’t want to be bothered with the care and maintenance of hearing aids. Many of the devices require frequent battery changes. Those batteries are very small and might prove impossible for seniors to work with.

So, while this might be a primary approach, it could prove impractical.

Other Options

Thanks to other technologies—and the growth of the number of companies creating products for our growing senior population—there are simple and inexpensive devices that can be integrated into everyday situations which can help seniors use other senses to compensate for hearing impairment.

There’s a profusion of wireless doorbell kits you can buy that add a flashing light to alert you when someone rings the doorbell.

If you have a landline phone connection—and many of us still do—you can purchase a signaler that plugs into the phone jack. It will flash a light to alert you when there’s an incoming call.

You may have seen them in public buildings. When a fire alarm goes off, the devices also flash with a strobe. This technology has made it into home smoke detectors. Most are as simple to install as putting in a battery and hanging it up on the wall.

We’re all susceptible to losing our hearing, and it’s something that many seniors must live with. Thanks to the concept of mixing visual cues with audio, many of the things seniors thought they would have to tune out are now available to them again.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

More than 2 million older Americans end up at the emergency room because of fall-related injuries every year. There are many related causes, but the majority is because seniors just don’t get enough exercise.

Regular exercise is a crucial part of maintaining health and mobility for older adults—especially those who are in memory care homes. Balance exercises are especially important because they can help to prevent falls. Here are two exercises that caregivers can help seniors perform. They’re simple, and they require no complicated or expensive equipment.

1. Standing on One Foot

Either you or a sturdy chair that’s not on wheels will be the only assistance required for this exercise. Have the person stand behind the chair, or extend your arm and tell them to hold on to it.

Then, have them raise one of their legs off the ground. The easiest way is to ask them to bend their knee, so that their foot comes up behind them. It only has to be a few inches off the ground. The objective is to have them standing only on one foot.

Ask them to hold this position for 10 seconds. Tell them it’s fine if they want to rest their hand on the hip of the raised leg. This might assist in their feeling of a comfortable balance. Be sure to watch for their stability, and be ready to assist them if they start to fall. Ask them to repeat this motion 10 times, and then switch to the other leg.

It might seem as if this isn’t even really an exercise. It’s helping the participant to utilize the muscles in their standing leg and back. They’ll be focused on keeping their balance, and that’s what you want to help them retain.

2. Heel-to-Toe Walk

Your exercise partner might not even believe that this is an exercise—and that’s one of the benefits. Have them do this exercise near a wall, or assure them that you’ll be right next to them to offer a steady arm.

Have them position the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot. This will work best if they actually have the heel of the front foot touching the toes of the trailing foot. Then tell them to take the back foot and place it in front of the front foot. Make sure they’re not looking down at their feet. Ask them to focus on a spot directly in front of them.

Speed isn’t what you’re after here. You want to help your exercise partner maintain a slow and steady movement as they concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other, taking about 20 or so steps. The exercise helps them think about foot placement and balance.

These two exercises help seniors to maintain—or even regain—their sense of balance. It allows them to feel surer of themselves as they move about. A better sense of balance can help to prevent fall-related injuries by building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Best of all, they don’t even really seem like exercises!