Here, in the final part of our three-part series on young stroke survivor Garrett Mendez, Dr Alyse Sicklick shares with SR Times her experience of treating younger stroke patients.
SRT: What are the key elements that elevate a younger person’s risk of stroke?
AS: “Many of the risk factors that can affect an older person’s stroke risk – high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, smoking, and drinking – can be major risk factors in younger people as well. There are many additional lifestyle and hereditary causes that can affect a younger person’s stroke risk, including connective tissue diseases, coagulation abnormalities, and even illicit drug usage.”
What are the differences in treating a younger person who has a stroke to an elderly patient?
AS: “Stroke recovery and rehabilitation is not a one-size-fits-all solution and must be tailored to each individual. Factors that influence one’s treatment plan include the type and severity of the stroke and the personal goals that the patient sets for their recovery.
“Garrett Mendez is an excellent example of how a tailored approach to recovery and rehabilitation results in optimal outcomes. Garrett was an active teenager with many years of life ahead of him. He had big goals to return to sports, complete his college education, pursue a career, and become as independent as possible.
“When Garrett began his rehabilitation journey at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, a long-term acute care hospital in Connecticut, he was immediately deemed an excellent candidate for our Young Stroke Program.
“Participation in the Young Stroke Program is not based on age, but is related to the patient’s level of activity before the stroke, specifically if the person was a student, caregiver, or employed at the time of the stroke. This program helps them get back to the life they were leading and as close to their baseline through an aggressive, goal-driven, interdisciplinary plan of care.
“Garrett has made – and continues to make – exceptional gains. He returned to golf, earned his college degree, and often shares his story of recovery and encouragement as an active volunteer with Gaylord Hospital’s Acquired Brain Injury Peer Mentor Program.”
Do you think there needs to be more awareness towards the matter that strokes aren’t just a condition that happens in elderly people?
AS: “Absolutely. While the majority of Americans who have a stroke are aged 65 years or older, multiple studies show that the incidence of stroke has been increasing among younger people.
“This may be attributed to the fact that stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco use and obesity have been on the rise among younger and middle-aged adults.”
What advice would you give to a younger person who is worried about their risk of having a stroke?
AS: “Even if someone has hereditary stroke risk factors beyond their control, there are still steps they can take to ensure they do not compound that risk, such as staying active, eating well, and keeping up with preventive care by seeing their doctor regularly.
“I urge anyone, regardless of age or risk level, to educate themselves and their loved ones on recognising stroke warning signs so they can receive prompt interventional care for the best potential outcomes. “
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