A stroke refers to the death of brain cells occurring as a result of a blockage of oxygen to the brain. Strokes affect people of all ages, but they are far more prevalent in those over 65, who might have more medical risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Though some strokes are mild, many are devastating. Even minor strokes can affect memory, physical function, and the ability to communicate. In Michigan, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death. And while family history, ethnicity and gender can play a role, stroke risk can be reduced.

The American Stroke Association, which named May Stroke Prevention Month, says 80% of strokes can be prevented with lifestyle changes.

Eat well; be well: Fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat proteins. It may be hard for seniors to try new foods, but adding whole grains, beans and nuts to the diet a bit at a time can help to improve the diet.

Seniors should limit sodium to 1500 mg a day to keep hypertension in check. Shy away from refined sugars, processed foods and sodas.

Read more in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Get moving: Studies have shown that regular exercise three-to-five days a week reduces the risk factors for stroke. And the good news is that you are never too old to start exercising.

The US Surgeon General recommends a minimum 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day for better cardiovascular health. For seniors, this can be accomplished through brisk walking, and can be broken up into short ten-minute sessions. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and reduces stress levels—all necessary for a healthy blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control Physical Activity website is an excellent resource for helping older adults begin an exercise program.

Always check with a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Maintain a healthy weight: Balancing caloric intake and exercise can help seniors maintain a healthy weight that will reduce the incidence of heart disease and stroke.

Quit smoking: Smoking makes the heart work harder by damaging the circulatory system, doubling the risk for stroke. The benefits of quitting even late in life are great. A 2002 study determined that smokers who quit at age 65 added up to 3.4 years to their lives. After one year smoke free, the added risk of stroke was eliminated.

Go easy on the alcohol:
While some studies connect one alcoholic drink a day to a reduced stroke risk, others point to an increased risk when people drank two or more. The American Stroke Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

To learn more about strokes and stroke prevention, we encourage you to visit the Stroke Resource Center.


Heritage Senior Communities newest community is now open in Holland, Michigan. The Village at Appledorn West offers adults over the age of 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments. An assisted living community on the same campus will open its doors to new residents later this spring.