As a future retiree, you may want to prepare yourself to enjoy all the wealth and health that you deserve. But something as common as a stroke could leave you disabled and your savings wrecked.
Stroke is a leading cause of health problems in the U.S. Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and every four minutes someone dies as a result of a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association. A stroke can leave you with over $20,000 in hospital costs, and years’ worth of expensive treatments, therapy, and other costs associated with disability. So, how can you make sure you’re prepared to deal with this widespread health issue?
Let’s start by understanding what a stroke is. Referred to as a “brain attack” by the National Stroke Association, a stroke occurs when blood flow to a certain part of the brain is cut off. Since blood carries oxygen around the body, the cells in the affected part of the brain become oxygen-deprived and die off. This means abilities controlled by the affected area of the brain can become limited or completely lost.
The severity of a stroke varies greatly depending on where the stroke occurs and how much brain damage it causes. The spectrum of aftereffects can run from temporary weakness to permanent paralysis to death. Some stroke survivors recover completely, but more than two-thirds are left with some type of lasting disability, making stroke a leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the National Stroke Association.
Recognizing when a stroke is happening is the best way to limit a stroke’s potential to cause irreversible damage. The National Stroke Association says some signs and symptoms of a stroke include the sudden onset of:
• Numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
• Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Severe headache with no known cause.
The National Stroke Association recommends calling 911 immediately if you observe any of these symptoms. Note the time the first symptom occurred. This will affect treatment decisions.
A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. But there are health factors that can lead to a higher risk. Many of these factors are the result of a person’s lifestyle and are therefore preventable. That’s good news for people who are paying attention to their lifestyle choices when planning for the future.
You can reduce your risk of stroke by creating good, common sense health habits in three parts of your life: diet and nutrition, exercise, and tobacco and alcohol use.
When it comes to diet, the National Stroke Association recommends eating a variety of vegetables as often as possible. Think about color. Make your plate your palette − dark green, red, orange, a spectrum of beans and peas and some of those starchy tans. Eat whole fruits and whole grains. Limit dairy and have a variety of lean protein, like nuts, seeds, poultry and seafood. Whenever possible cut out added sugar. Packaged food almost always has more sugar than you need.
Eating healthy cuts your risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and carotid artery disease, all of which contribute to risk of stroke.
Maintain a physically active lifestyle. The Center for Disease Control suggests 150 minutes of moderate activity a week with two days of muscle-strengthening activity, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity, or some combination of the two. Just make sure you’re having fun exercising. That’ll help you keep the habit.
Finally, tobacco and alcohol use have an enormous impact on your risk for stroke. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke when compared to a nonsmoker. Smoking increases clot formation, thickens blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries. If you smoke, find a way to quit. It’s that simple. The Harvard School of Public Health says heavy drinking can increase blood pressure (a known cause of stroke) and damage heart muscle. High alcohol consumption takes a heavy toll on the body and causes many other health problems. Luckily, a bit of moderation can do the trick; the National Stroke Association recommends keeping it to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Stroke is associated with huge medical costs. And the alarming news is that strokes are on the rise among younger adults (15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents). The financial burden to a stroke survivor (ages 18-65) is far greater than that of an older survivor because they live longer with the physical effects of the stroke. The National Stroke Association also says that younger stroke survivors experience a greater loss in salary earnings, meaning they’ll have to work longer and harder to retire.
Now that you understand stroke, its enormous financial burden and the lifestyle choices you can make to limit your risk—own it. You may want to consider talking to your doctor about your family medical history and other risk factors. Use all this knowledge to live a little smarter today so that you can worry a little less about tomorrow.
Things to Consider:
• Keep your plate colorful, not with Lucky Charms but with fruits and veggies.
• Get moving.
• Quit smoking, and keep a lid on alcohol use.