Deadly Denial: What baby boomers should know about stroke

A recent American Stroke Association survey shows that many baby boomers do not recognize all five of the major warning signs for stroke. In a February 2003 survey of 1,000 adults, the American Stroke Association found that most baby boomers do not know all the stroke warning signs and do not know what to do if someone has a stroke. They are moving closer to the age — 55 — when their own stroke risk will begin to double with each successive decade*. Baby boomers are also in denial about the looming threat of America’s No. 3 killer in their own lives. One-third of respondents said, “I can’t prevent a stroke, so why worry?”

“It concerns us that this group underestimates their risk and that a significant number aren’t concerned,” says David R. Bell, Ph.D., American Stroke Association volunteer and Chair of the Allen County Operation Stroke Committee. “Baby boomers represent a large part of the population and as more of them turn 55 each year, they should be able to recognize the stroke warning signs and know what to do in the event someone has a stroke.”

Truth: Various factors affect your risk for stroke. These include uncontrollable factors, such as family history, age and gender. But some factors are controllable, such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking. By quitting smoking, working with your doctor to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure, eating healthy and exercising, you can reduce your stroke risk.

The reason that more than half of the baby boomers surveyed don’t worry about stroke is that they believe, “I’m not at risk for stroke.”

Truth: Stroke can occur at any time, at any age, to anyone. It’s important to recognize the signs of stroke and seek treatment. Never dismiss the signs of stroke because you believe that someone having symptoms is “too young.” In addition, while some people are at a lower risk for stroke than others, those who have the highest risk have a combination of factors that may include a family history of stroke, existing cardiovascular conditions, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, a history of heart attack or stroke, tobacco use and age greater than 55. In addition, if you are overweight or obese, you should follow sound dietary advice and engage in physical activity to control your weight and reduce your risk of stroke.

The American Stroke Association encourages you this May — American Stroke Month — to take the following steps toward a healthier future:

Know the warning signs of stroke and teach them to your family and friends. The more people who can recognize stroke, the better off you are if you have one. If you recognize the signs of stroke in yourself or another person, call 9-1-1 immediately to get to a hospital quickly. The signs of a stroke are:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

For additional stroke resources, visit or call 1-888-4-STROKE.