Mini Strokes in Elderly Adults: Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is essentially a ministroke. Because they last for only a few minutes, suffering a mini-stroke typically doesn’t lead to the same dire consequences as a regular stroke. However, TIA can be a warning sign that you’re at risk for a stroke in the future.Image of Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) written on a diagnosis form.

In fact, the probability of a person suffering a stroke sometime after TIA is about 24-29%. And depending on the year, stroke is generally the 4th or 5th leading cause of death in the US. But many of these strokes can be prevented, and learning more about elderly TIA is a great place to start.

TIA Strokes in Elderly Adults

A stroke is when part of the brain loses access to blood flow, which can cause brain cells to die. Depending on where this damage occurs, it can lead to a loss of speech, muscle control, memory, or similar issues. About three-quarters of stroke victims are left with a lasting disability.

Since a slower response means risking greater brain damage, time is of the essence in a stroke. Treatment within a few hours of identifying the attack can greatly increase the chances of a total recovery. And you can never tell if someone is experiencing TIA or a stroke, which is why it’s important to learn how to spot the symptoms.

Ministroke Symptoms in the Elderly

Because the key difference between TIA and a stroke is the duration of the event, symptoms of a TIA in the elderly are nearly identical to the symptoms of a regular stroke. However, there are a few small differences between the most common symptoms of ministroke in elderly women and symptoms of ministroke in elderly men. Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty seeing in either or both eyes
  • Double vision
  • Sudden weakness or numbness, especially on one side
  • Facial droop (especially for men)
  • Difficulty understanding speech or speaking (especially for men)

Additional symptoms that are more common in women include:

  • Nausea
  • Hiccups
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Agitation
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations

For remembering this laundry list of symptoms, people sometimes use the acronym F.A.S.T. That stands for: face, arms, speech, and time. A stroke often results in a person having impaired control over half of their body, so asking someone to give you a smile can help you test if both sides of their face equally under control.

Likewise, you can ask someone to raise their arms to determine if one arm cannot reach as high as the other. For speech, you can give someone a sentence to repeat and listen for slurred words. The element of time is there to remind you of the importance of quickly responding to these signs. Call 911 if you notice any symptom of ischemic stroke in the elderly because the faster you act, the better the prognosis.

Causes of TIA in Elderly Adults

There are several uncontrollable risk factors for a TIA attack in elderly people, including factors like age. But there are several risk factors you can control. For example, some medications can increase your risk, like post-menopausal hormones and oral contraceptives.

Obesity, depression, alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy lifestyle can increase your risk. The same is true of comorbid health conditions like hypertension or type-2 diabetes. But these risks can be lowered with management. And taking steps to manage your risk is especially important after TIA because about 10% of people who suffer TIA will have a stroke within the next 3-months.

Apart from medical treatment, one of the most important steps you can take towards lowering your risk is adopting a healthy lifestyle. You can do that by learning what to eat after a stroke and engaging in regular age-appropriate exercise.

Ischemic Stroke Prognosis in Elderly Adults

With an ischemic stroke, statistics show that about one in ten people have a complete recovery. Minor or major, most people are left with some kind of impairment. For many people, rehabilitation might include physical, cognitive, or emotional therapies.

How about mini-strokes? For most people, symptoms tend to disappear within a day. However, even ministrokes can leave someone with a disability that requires many of the same therapies as an ischemic stroke. Because you can’t tell the difference between ischemic stroke and TIA, you should always call 911 after you’ve identified stroke-like symptoms.

Treatment of TIA in Elderly Adults

After an incident of TIA, your doctor will try to narrow down the cause of the event. Once they determine the cause of the attack, they will suggest a treatment to help correct the problem. That might include statins, anticoagulant medications, antihypertensive medications, or anti-platelet drugs medications to reduce your risk of a stroke. Depending on the cause, surgery or angioplasty may be necessary to clear dangerously clogged veins or arteries.

Unfortunately, treating the pain associated with strokes can be challenging. Because the kinds of medications best at alleviating pain also tend to make cognitive impairments worse. Stroke patients are also at greater risk of developing a dependence on pain medications. But there is a reason for optimism. Overall, physicians have become much more effective at treating strokes over the past few decades, and the rate of mortality is on the decline.

TIA in the Elderly: Home Care

People who have a stroke are often scared by the experience. In a home care environment, it’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms of another stroke. But it’s just as important to be ready to provide emotional support for someone who’s undergone a traumatic event.

If TIA has left someone with a disability, it may be helpful to eventually find a support group to help them adjust their new circumstance. We’re all individuals, so different circumstances call for different approaches. But you can learn how to care for a stroke patient at home to better accommodate a loved one’s needs.

Summary

Sometimes a transient ischemic attack can lead to disability. More often than not, it’s a warning sign that intervention is necessary. But by learning the warning signs of a ministroke in the elderly and taking action to reduce risk, it’s possible to greatly improve a person’s prognosis.