TIA And What It Means For Seniors

tia and what it means for seniors

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is the medical term for what non-medical personnel refer to as “mini-strokes.” They are dubbed “mini” because the symptoms – and often the outcomes – are not nearly as debilitating as those of a full-blown stroke, but don’t let that fool you. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), TIAs are often precursors to more TIAs (which can have increasingly debilitating effects) and full strokes, so they require full medical attention, treatment, and follow-up.

Furthermore, the correlation between TIAs and dementia, as well as heart disease are worth noting so seniors and their loved ones can make diet and lifestyle changes that positively impact the patient’s life.

Symptoms of a TIA

Just like a stroke, TIAs occur when blood flow is restricted to the brain, the result of a blood clot or blockage. Unlike a full stroke, however, a single TIA rarely results in permanent damage or disability. The symptoms or notable effects of the TIA depend on its severity and where in the brain it takes place.

Roughly one-third of patients who experience TIA had noticeable symptoms, other find out they had TIAs without realizing it when medical testing is required to address resulting health issues.

The most common symptoms of a transient ischemic attack last anywhere from one to five minutes and include:

  • Difficulty speaking (aphasia)
  • Inability to remember words or how to articulate sentences
  • Balance issues
  • Vision changes
  • Severe headache
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • An abnormal sense of taste and/or smell
  • Numbness or weakness on the right OR left side of the face (depending on which side of the brain the blockage occurs)

As we mentioned above, TIA symptoms often last only one to five minutes, however, they can also last as long as 24-hours. Experiencing any of the above symptoms should prompt an immediate call to 9-1-1. DO NOT transport yourself to the doctor or hospital as another TIA or stroke could render you incapable of driving while you’re behind the wheel. That’s not safe for you, and it’s not safe for others on the road.

Risk factors for TIAs

Due to the similarity between TIAs and strokes, the risk factors for TIAs are almost identical to those associated with strokes. These include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries in or around the brain as the result of plaque)
  • Carotid artery disease (blockage in the main artery leading to the brain via the neck)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking

The simple act of eating a heart-healthy diet and getting regular exercise, in addition to getting regular check-ups, are all powerful preventative measures in avoiding both TIAs and strokes.

There is a big connection between transient ischemic attacks and dementia

Recent research indicates a strong correlation between TIAs and vascular dementia. According to Healthline:

In a 2012 study, one researcher reviewed nine studies on dementia in people who’ve had a stroke. In total, the study looked at 5,514 people with pre- or post-stroke dementia. The study found that rates of post-stroke dementia were between 9.6 and 14.4 percent in people who’ve had one stroke. This rate increased to 29.6 to 53.1 percent in people with recurrent stroke.

Interestingly, seniors over the age of 65 who have a high risk of stroke (typically the result of the risk factors listed above) also have a high risk of developing dementia. Ultimately, the brain requires healthy circulation and oxygen flow to perform well, particularly as it ages.

Is there a cure or treatment for TIAs?

While a TIA can’t be reversed, once diagnosed the treatment relies on lifestyle changes and medications that help with optimizing blood flow to the brain. Some of the most common medications include:

  • Antiplatelet drugs (blood thinners) ranging from over-the-counter aspirin to prescription meds
  • Anticoagulants, like Coumadin, Xarelto or Eliquis

Medical procedures

In more severe cases, doctors may recommend a medical procedure such as a minimally carotid intervention that opens up blocked/constricted arteries, or a more invasive surgery called a carotid endarterectomy. For that procedure, the doctor removes fatty deposits and fats from the arterial walls.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to diet and exercise, additional lifestyle changes can help to prevent first-time or repeat TIAs. For example:

  • Quit smoking
  • Have your doctor review all medications to improve control over other existing health issues
  • Get better sleep
  • Improve your stress management skills

Have TIAs made it more difficult for you or a loved one to live independently or enjoy a high-quality life? Schedule a consultation with HomeAide Home Care and learn more about your options. We provide a range of senior supports, from meal preparation and companion services to driving support, errand running and even full-time home care assistance.

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