A TIA is a mini stroke
If your older adult suddenly feels odd or acts strangely, even for a few minutes, it could be a sign that they’ve just had a mini stroke.
When stroke-like symptoms appear for only a short time, it’s called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a mini stroke.
Symptoms could even come and go so quickly that seniors might not realize they’ve had a stroke.
We explain what happens during a TIA, symptoms and causes, and two reasons why these mini strokes are serious warnings for seniors – major stroke and vascular dementia.
TIA stroke symptoms and causes
During a mini stroke, the blood supply to the brain is briefly blocked. It’s basically a stroke that only lasts for a few minutes.
Symptoms of a TIA are like typical stroke symptoms, but don’t last as long. Most symptoms disappear within an hour, but could last for up to 24 hours.
You won’t be able to tell if these symptoms are from a TIA or a major stroke, so if your older adult has these symptoms, immediately call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Symptoms happen suddenly and include:
Numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
Confusion, trouble speaking, difficulty understanding speech
Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Problems with balance or coordination
An abnormal sense of taste or smell
A TIA is usually caused by low blood flow at a narrow part of a major artery that carries blood to the brain, like the carotid artery.
It could also be caused by a blood clot that travels to the brain and blocks a blood vessel there.
A third common cause is the narrowing of smaller blood vessels in the brain. That blocks blood flow for a short period of time – often caused by plaque build-up.
A TIA is a warning of two serious health conditions
1. It’s a sign of major stroke in the near future
Mini strokes usually don’t cause permanent brain damage, but they’re a serious warning sign that a major stroke will happen in the future.
In fact, nearly 20% of people people who have a suspected TIA will have a stroke within 90 days.
2. They cause vascular dementia
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia and is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain – usually from a stroke or a series of strokes.
This type of dementia usually affects people aged 60 to 75 and is more common in men than women.
Even though TIAs can be unnoticeably small, the damage to the brain adds up over time.
When the blood flow to the brain is blocked, brain cells don’t get oxygen and nutrients. That causes damage to areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and language.
This leads to memory loss, confusion, and other signs of dementia.
What to do after a TIA
If you suspect that your older adult has had a mini stroke, take them to a hospital immediately and describe all the symptoms they experienced.
To reduce the risk of a major stroke in the near future, doctors may recommend medication to prevent blood clots from forming or to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease. Depending on the situation, surgery could also be recommended.
In the longer term, help your older adult lower their stroke and vascular dementia risk by improving their lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle means not smoking, not drinking too much, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
It is also important to keep other health conditions under control, especially high blood pressure and high cholesterol.