I never run out of ideas for my column because the topic of positive aging covers so many aspects of life. But every now and then, I can't help but feel that the universe is nudging me to address a particular topic. The reason I've decided to explore strokes this month is I've recently had five different stroke encounters.
The topic first came to my attention when one of the smartest and most powerful men I know experienced a series of TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, otherwise known as mini-strokes. The second nudge came when an elderly woman I know was recently hospitalized with a stroke. It left her still looking beautiful, and able to walk and drive just as before, but with enough anomia (difficulty finding words, naming objects or describing pictures) that it was practically impossible to communicate with her. The third event involved one of my writing students, a young man in his 20s, who suffered a stroke immediately following surgery. He endured four years of physical therapy and now walks with a pronounced limp, but he managed to graduate from college this past week even though all the experts felt that the effect of his stroke would render that dream impossible.
Then, while my husband and I were watching the latest episode of "Grace and Frankie," Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin, suffered a mild stroke. Because of that incident, earlier plotlines were altered; treatment techniques were discussed by those close to her; and lifestyle choices had to be closely reexamined.
As you can see, the prevalence and variety of strokes that were on my mind were increasing. To top it all off, I was lucky enough to meet Diane Ackerman, the author of "The Zookeeper's Wife," just before the movie based on her book was released. She told me about her husband's stroke, which had become the topic of one of her earlier books, "One Hundred Names for Love." He, an English professor who has written dozens of books, suffered a stroke that left him with global aphasia, which meant that he lost most of his ability to speak and understand language.
These experiences prompted me to learn more about this medical event. Essentially, a stroke occurs when part of the brain loses oxygen. During every minute without oxygen, the affected part of the brain loses 1.9 million neurons, 14 billion synapses and 7.5 miles of protective fibers. It is a really serious medical emergency. Some of the initial symptoms include balance problems, changes in or loss of vision, confusion, difficulty speaking, nausea or vomiting, numbness, severe headache, tingling and trouble understanding speech.
Next week, I'll discuss risk factors and the shifting demographics of stroke victims in America today. In the meantime, if you think someone might be having a stroke, here are the four most obvious signs that indicate medical help is needed, which form the acronym FAST:
—Time to call 911.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.