May is Stroke Awareness Month

By Stephanie Mensh

During May, which is National Stroke Awareness Month, the American Stroke Association strives to educate the public that stroke is the leading cause of serious, long term disability. Here are some important statistics:

  • Strokes kill more than 133,000 Americans annually
  • Each year, about as many Americans have a stroke as a heart attack
  • High blood pressure is the most important controllable risk factor for stroke
  •  44%  more young Americans were hospitalized due to stroke in the last decade
  • 73% of young Americans are not familiar with stroke symptoms and the need for urgent medical attention.

Stroke is a medical emergency.  F.A.S.T is one way to remember the symptoms of stroke:

F is for FACE

Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the FACE droop?

A is for ARMS

Ask the person to raise both ARMS. Does one arm drift downward?

S is for SPEECH

Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their SPEECH slurred or strange?

T is for TIME

If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY.

Advances in medical and rehabilitation treatment means that stroke survivors can often return to their homes and communities. To be successful, the individual may need mobility and communication assistance, as well as modifications to his or her home to make it wheelchair accessible and/or safe to use the shower and kitchen, climb stairs, etc. Some stroke survivors may be able to return to work with reasonable accommodations and modifications.

My husband, Paul Berger, suffered a stroke at age 36, resulting in significant impairments, including loss of use of his right hand, weakness in his right leg, and speech-language challenges. Even so, he was able to return to work and to school, and participate in hobbies, interests and volunteer organizations in the community with the help of assistive technology.

When Paul first came home from the rehab center, he was using a wheelchair, so we installed a ramp and leased a chair lift to carry him to the second floor. We bought a tub bench and a hand-held showerhead for the bathroom. Over time, Paul has been able to get around without the wheelchair, only sometimes needing a cane. We eventually built an accessible shower stall with a low threshold, grab bars, a fold-down seat and handheld showerhead.

Since he has not regained much function in his right hand, we modified our house to help him with using one hand. We installed handrails on both sides of all the stairs, to hold on with his left hand going up and down. 

In the kitchen, we replaced the standard stove-oven combination with a separate cooktop and countertop-high wall oven so Paul could access it from a standing position, using his one hand to transfer the baking dish safely from hot oven to counter. The standard stove-oven combination required him to bend down, with gravity pulling his paralyzed right hand into the hot oven; and with one hand, it was difficult to lift a hot tray or dish without tipping it. We also use a freestanding microwave on the countertop, rather than a built-in that is typically about 18 to 24 inches above the counter and requires lifting the dish down without spilling. 

To return to work and school, Paul needed some accommodations, rather than physical modifications. For example, in school, he was allowed more time to complete assignments. In addition to the built-in language and communication aids in most office software, he uses various free software and apps to read aloud text, and assist in reading and writing.

Many of the assistive technology, tools, equipment and software that Paul uses are available from local hardware, office supply and medical supply stores, as well as through web-based sites and Amazon. The National Stroke Association www.stroke.org and the American Stroke Association www.strokeassociation.org provide information on resources and supports for succeeding at home, in the community and at work. Abledata www.abledata.com provides a variety of information products that could be helpful to individuals with stroke-related concerns on understanding assistive technology, as well as a clearinghouse of assistive technologies for improving communication, mobility, home modifications, personal care and activities at home, community and at work.