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.

Steering Clear of the Flu

Don’t look now, but the flu season is here. If you’re a senior or a caregiver, you’re high on the list for getting sick.

Our immune systems weaken as we get older. Caregivers often have more stress than other jobs, and that can weaken the immune system, too. There are ways to lessen the chances of catching—and passing on the flu bug. Here are some suggestions.

Get the Flu Vaccine

This advice tops just about every list of tips you’ll find on the subject. For two reasons. It lowers your risk of getting the flu in the first place, but it also decreases the severity of illness. Both reasons are advantages for seniors and their caregivers. December is not too late to get the vaccine.

Increase the Number of Times You Wash Your Hands

The flu can bring you to your knees, but turnabout is fair play. The flu virus is fragile and is no match for soap and water. How long do you need to wash your hands? It only takes about 20 seconds—or long enough to make it through 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.”

A trip to the restroom or kitchen sink to wash your hands isn’t always practical, whether you’re a caregiver or a senior. Stock up on hand sanitizer. It’s just as effective.

Kick Up Your Cleaning Routine

Focus on areas where germs—including the flu virus—are likely to be found, such as doorknobs, light switches, and the counters in your bathroom and kitchen. Then be sure to disinfect the rags or sponges you clean these areas with.

A bleach solution is best, but you can always throw sponges in the dishwasher, or even in the microwave for 1 minute. That’s enough time to kill most bacteria and the flu virus.

Don’t Play the Hero

It’s not always practical, but you should stay away from others if you’ve got the flu. When you are around people displaying flu symptoms, avoid unnecessary contact. Most people are unaware of how often they touch their faces—and that’s one of the most common ways we introduce the flu virus to our bodies.

We also tend to forget about things like our smartphones. Make it a habit to wipe down the phone with rubbing alcohol or a sanitizing wipe—but pay careful attention not to get too much moisture on it.

And if you do come down with the flu, follow that age-old advice about getting plenty of fluids. It’s not an Old Wives Tale. Even plain water helps hydrate you, which aids the nasal passages in staying moist—which traps germs before they can enter the body.

Understanding Sundowning

It’s not depression. It’s not a disease, either. Sundowning is actually a group of symptoms. In combination, they often mimic depression—and it’s also easy to think of it as a manifestation of dementia. Especially when studies report that 1 in 5 seniors with Alzheimer’s disease experience increased depression, agitation, and confusion toward the end of the day.

More study is needed. The exact cause of sundowning still isn’t known—but there are factors which contribute to it that can be controlled.

Reduced Light

Vision becomes even more challenging for the elderly as the sun’s natural light fades. Many are already challenged with impaired vision. Shadows and decreased lighting can cause confusion and fear in seniors with dementia.

Gerontologists also postulate that dementia alters the part of the brain that controls the need for sleep. The reduced light may also cause unintended disturbances to their biological clock, making difficult to separate dreams from reality, as they’re no longer sure when to sleep or be awake.

Fatigue

The setting sun often coincides with a culmination of physical and mental exhaustion for a senior. The rapid mood changes and uncooperativeness some seniors express may actually be frustrated reactions to the wear and tear of the day—which is also something that caregivers are feeling.

This last point is worth examining further. Sundowning often happens during a point of increased activity in a senior living facility. It’s usually when there’s a shift change. The increased activity and pace of people coming and going may be unsettling for some seniors.

Ways to Lessen the Potential Causes

If you’re aware of the possible triggers of sundowning, you can help to lessen its impact. Routine and activities have been shown to help. Keep seniors who show signs of sundowning on a consistent schedule of sleeping and eating. Plan regular activities for them throughout the day—especially things that get them outside and into the sunlight.

Remove stimulants from their diet if possible. Move caffeine and sugar intake to the start of the day so it won’t amplify the things that contribute to sundowning later in the day. Stimulation isn’t always a bad thing. Use it to build familiarity. Music often helps when seniors show signs of sundowning.

Finally, pay close attention to lighting. The objective isn’t to keep the night at bay. Poor lighting, however makes environments feel unfamiliar. That can be extremely stressful. It’s also important to remember that a senior exhibiting the symptoms of sundowning has not willfully chosen to act that way. Your actions often will determine their reactions.