Rita Lussier struggled to get out of bed one night last November. When she couldn’t manage it, she reached for the emergency alarm beside her bed that her family had installed at her request.
Her son Denis, whom she lives with in Ottawa, rushed in to find his 94-year-old mother on the floor. She couldn’t speak. He contacted the medical emergency company and they called an ambulance.
At the hospital doctors determined that Rita was having a stroke. She was given alteplase (also called tPA), a drug that dissolves clots blocking blood flow to the brain in a stroke. Initially Rita was paralyzed on her left side and she could not walk for a few weeks.
Age as a risk factor
The risk of stroke increases with age, says Dr. Patrice Lindsay, director of stroke for Heart & Stroke. “Older people tend to have more severe strokes and poorer outcomes,” she says.
For women it’s even more serious, Dr. Lindsay adds: “Older women have a two-fold higher risk of poor functional outcomes at three months and at one year after stroke, compared with men.” For women who are widowed or living alone, it can mean the end of their independence.
Rita spent several weeks in the hospital recovering. She went home for a few days before a space became available in an in-patient rehabilitation facility.
Initially she did not want to go, but with the support of family, and drawing on her own resolve and motivation to recover, she relented. “I went for one simple reason – I did not want to stay in the state I was in. It helped me regain my mobility,” says Rita.
Progress and determination
She is walking again with the aid of a walker that she was using before her stroke. She still has weakness on her left side, including limited use of her left hand. And she continues to make progress.
“You need to adapt and pay attention to what is happening to your body,” Rita says. “You need to change your plans. Having a stroke made me less of a perfectionist, it made me more patient, more accepting.”
Rita feels lucky to have a lot of support from her family, including her seven sons and many grandchildren. “The stroke showed me what they had inside, the kids I raised.”