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February 25, 2009 > Stroke: Life Changes in the 'Wink of an Eye'

Stroke: Life Changes in the 'Wink of an Eye'

Stroke Series Moves to a New Date and Time

What you learn today about stroke - the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer - could save your life tomorrow.

"We feel that getting the knowledge about stroke is very important," says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program.

"People need to know how to detect the signs and symptoms of stroke, and they need to know to call 9-1-1, rather than taking a nap or waiting for their symptoms to go away. There is a very narrow window of time in which we can help people, so it's vital that they get to the emergency room right away."

Van Houten presents Washington Hospital's quarterly Stroke Education Series with the participation of Washington Hospital Medical Staff cardiologists and neurosurgeons in hopes of better informing the public about stroke.

To reach a broader audience, the series has moved from Tuesday nights to noon to 2 p.m., the first Monday of every month.

You might wonder who can benefit from the series, which covers stroke prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, chronic care and life after a stroke. The answer is almost everyone, Van Houten says. The more community members learn about stroke, the better their chances of avoiding the leading cause of long-term disability.

The devastating effects of stroke might actually provide clues as to why so many people remain unaware of its dangers.

While stroke killed 275,000 people in 2002 and accounted for about 1 of 16 deaths in the United States, there are an estimated 1 million people living with stroke who report difficulties with daily living as a result, according to the American Stroke Association.

Notably, a percentage of survivors are left unable to perform basic self-care, such as feeding themselves or using the bathroom. As a result, some stroke survivors require the round-the-clock monitoring of a nursing care facility and therefore remain out of the public eye.

One of Van Houten's goals during the Stroke Education Series says is to make more people were aware of the destructive effects of stroke, but also how easily preventable stroke is with the right tools.

"Stroke is mostly preventable," Van Houten says. "The main problem is the disconnect between how prevalent stroke is and how preventable it is. Our first goal is to keep people from having the stroke in the first place. The second is, if a stroke does occur, that people know what to do so there are options for treatment that can help prevent death or long-term disability."

During each seminar, Van Houten and a presenting physician cover a different series of need-to-know topics about stroke, including:
* Introduction to stroke and its risk factors
* Stroke prevention and healthy lifestyle
* Acute management of stroke and chronic care and rehabilitation
* Life after stroke and the future of diagnosis and management

The next seminar, which will be held on Monday, March 2, from 12 to 2 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, will focus on an introduction to stroke and its risk factors.

"It's very important to tell people exactly what stroke is," Van Houten says. "A large number of people say 'Oh, stroke. That's when there's something wrong with my heart, right?' We call stroke a 'brain attack,' and it's important understand what stroke is, the risk factors and what the signs and symptoms are, which we will cover in this talk. I never have a stroke talk without providing a sheet that lists the signs and symptoms of stroke that tells you what to do."

Knowing about stroke is important, but prevention requires active participation well before a stroke ever occurs, Van Houten says.

"The truth is that a stroke death occurs every three minutes," he points out. "There are 700,000 strokes a year. It's the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability. There are 5 million stroke survivors out there, and only 50 percent of stroke survivors regain functional independence. The cold, hard truth is that most will be dead within one year of their first stroke. You don't want to have a stroke."

To drive home his point, Van Houten spends a great deal of time showing people statistics of demographics that match them, from race and gender to age and lifestyle.

"It's one thing for people to listen to a general talk about stroke, but if somebody can identify with the information, it's different," he says.

He points out that African Americans represent a higher risk group, and that stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. He also shows slides of prominent people that have had a stroke, including Kirk Douglas, Mel Torme and Ted Williams.

"It's important to remember that stroke doesn't just happen to old people," Van Houten says. "At least 25 percent of strokes happen to people under the age of 60. It seems like we've had a rash of 50-year-olds with stroke, and a lot of them will die. It happens so suddenly because these people don't have a clue that they're at risk. They're active and living their lives independently, and then in the wink of an eye, things change forever. So often, there's no going back."

But prevention and recovery from stroke are always possibilities. That's why Van Houten works with the community and stroke survivors every day.

"There are two main things people need to enact the changes necessary to preventing stroke," Van Houten says. "One is knowledge and the other is motivation. If I tell you all the ways to prevent stroke and motivate you to make changes, then we can come up with creative ways to make lifestyle changes that can reduce the chances of a stroke."

Stroke Series Moves to a New Day and Time!

What: Stroke Education Series
Topic: Introduction to Stroke/Risk Factors for Stroke
When: Monday, March 2, 12 to 2 p.m.
Where: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
Call to register: (800) 963-7070

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