Most of us associate strokes with older adults, people in their ‘golden years’. But about one in ten strokes — or 800,000 strokes each year in the United States — involve people under the age of 45. Now, a mounting body of evidence is revealing how these devastating events continue to impact a stroke victim as their life goes on.
Simply put, a stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, often by a blood clot. No matter the age of the person involved, it’s a devastating health event. And for younger people, it’s an event that hangs over their lives for years afterwards.
Take, for example, Lauren Rushen, who suffered a stroke in her mid-twenties. Because of her age, doctors didn’t immediately treat her for a stroke. “I laid in my small-town ER for 2 hours. And we know now that time is everything,” Rushen says. “That’s really not where I needed to be spending 2 hours.”
Six years later and Rushen has only partial feeling in her arms and one foot. It’s a condition that forces her to spend hours a day in physical therapy and places her in need of constant assistance, which is provided by her parents.
Research shows Rushen isn’t alone. A report released this past February found that one in three people who suffer a stroke before age 50 cannot continue to live on their own afterwards.
Another report, released in July, is even more troubling. It shows that stroke rates stayed the same for people under age 65, while they dropped significantly for people older than 65. Experts believe this is because research has focused on preventing strokes in older adults while ignoring the 10 per cent of Americans who suffer strokes before age 45.
In fact, it’s still not known why Rushen — or many other young adults like her — suffered a stroke at all. Rushen’s doctors figure it must have been related to a minor traffic accident she was in prior to the stroke.
In any case, it’s clear that more has to be done to prevent strokes in younger adults. As for Rushen, she says younger adults need to recognize that strokes are possible for people in their twenties, thirties, and forties.