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The Medicare Diet: Best Diet For Stroke Prevention in Seniors


Posted on March 21, 2023 by Austin Lang

Need Some Food For Thought?

The best diet to prevent stroke is very similar to ones recommended by a dietitian to lower cholesterol or blood pressure (like the DASH diet), which shouldn’t come as a surprise. A stroke is, after all, a cardiovascular condition. 

However, there are certain special considerations (even beyond the DASH diet), that you should make particularly if you’re recovering from a stroke or have had one in the past, that must be taken into account. In this edition of The Medicare Diet, we go over the root cause of a stroke, and ways Medicare and a healthy diet can help keep your brain running smoothly.

What is a Stroke?

Various CT scans depicting brain damage caused by stroke. The damage is highlighted in red.

Some people refer to strokes as ‘brain attacks’, in part because their general cause is almost identical to that of a heart attack. In both conditions, blood is prevented from reaching a key organ of the body, inhibiting its function and leading to severe injury or death if left untreated. However, like all things involving the brain, a stroke is a bit more complicated than a clogged artery.

The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke. These occur when a blood clot, typically formed from fatty deposits in the blood called plaque, blocks a blood vessel to the brain. It’s possible for other particles in the blood to lead to an ischemic stroke, but this is very rare, and usually a complication from some other condition.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures, leading to increased pressure on brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes are usually caused by high blood pressure or aneurysms. 

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or ‘mini-stroke’, is like an ischemic stroke, but much shorter in duration. The clog resolves itself in less than five minutes. This is still a medical emergency, as there is no way to know if a given stroke will be transient. Moreover, having a TIA is likely a warning sign of a future, much more serious stroke. Even if stroke symptoms clear up, you should seek immediate medical attention. 

Common symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, often focused to one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, including an inability to speak or understand speech. 
  • Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache.

A common way to identify a stroke is by using the FAST method. 

  • Face – Ask the person to smile, and see if one side of the face droops.
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise their arms, and check to see if an arm drifts downward.
  • Speech – Ask a person to repeat a simple phrase, and check if their speech is slurred or strange.
  • Time – If you identify any of these signs, call 911 immediately. Stroke treatment is most effective within three hours, and an ambulance ride allows EMTs to begin treatment immediately.

Because a stroke affects the brain, it can have serious long-term complications when compared to a heart attack. A stroke patient may lose control of certain bodily functions, have reduced motor skills, or experience cognitive symptoms like memory loss.

The Best Foods For Stroke Prevention

Various foods, including broccoli, salmon, tomato, grains, spinach, and steak surrounded by scrabble tiles reading "healthy diet". More fruits and vegetables, including apples and bananas, surround the sign.

As a cardiovascular condition, a stroke is prevented in much the same way as other forms of cardiovascular disease: keeping blood pressure and cholesterol intake at balanced levels. As such, many of the foods that are part of a heart disease diet, the DASH diet, or heart healthy diet are also key to preventing stroke in seniors. This includes things like:

  • Fruits, vegetables, and legumes
  • Beans and nuts
  • Fish and poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy

Things like red meat, heavily processed foods, high fat dairy, and fried foods should be consumed in moderation, if at all, as they are a stroke risk factor. Sodium and trans fats, which contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol, are also a stroke risk factor and should be avoided. All of this is covered in more detail in previous editions of The Medicare Diet, if you’d like more in depth information.

Depending on your prior research, you may have encountered mention of the Mediterranean Diet. This is a type of diet commonly recommended by cardiologists for its seemingly endless health benefits, including being rich in antioxidant and reducing the stroke risk. The diet is named for its origins in the Mediterranean, where residents experience a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. However, eating a Mediterranean diet is more complicated than visiting your local Greek diner and having a field day on some gyros. 

You see, the ‘magic’ of the Mediterranean diet has little to do with its geographic origins. Instead, it’s a largely plant and grain based diet that features moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy. In other words, foods that happen to be heart healthy and beneficial to heart disease patients in reasonable proportions. 

The other alleged secrets to the Mediterranean diet are the moderate consumption of red wine, and the use of extra virgin olive oil. Regarding the wine, while drinking a glass in moderation is fine, there are far more health risks associated with drinking than there are cardiovascular benefits, so don’t start if you’re not already a drinker. 

As for the olive oil, it is a healthier source of fat compared to butter or vegetable oil, but isn’t a panacea. Like any diet, the Mediterranean diet only works if you commit to it and make the necessary lifestyle change. Eating a Greek salad here and there isn’t magically going to make you healthier or instantly return you to a healthy weight, but replacing a meal a week with a Greek salad is a good stepping stone to better habits.

Here are some Mediterranean style dishes for inspiration, if you’re looking to expand your cookbook:

Foods For Stroke Recovery

A rocking knife, used to slice dates.

If you’re looking for a stroke victim diet plan, the specifics are quite similar to those of stroke prevention. Unfortunately, no recipe will undo the damage of a stroke, though many recipes can help prevent a future recurrence and help a stroke patient better handle stroke recovery. The tricky part of making a diet for stroke victim s is accommodating any complications caused by the stroke itself.

During stroke recovery, a stroke patient may experience difficulty swallowing, or may be unable to use normal cutlery. While Medicare will cover things like speech-language pathology and occupational therapy to help with these complications, Medicare won’t generally cover things like dietitian services, assisted living, or caregiving services. Fortunately, there are ways to make the rehabilitation process more comfortable, and to maintain independence even after a loss of grip strength or motor skills.

Companies like Good Grips sell special utensils for people with limited hand strength, including ones with larger handles or finger loops. You can also purchase simple cuffs to use with your existing silverware. You may also want to consider adaptive tools like rocking knives or non-slip plates, which are available from medical suppliers specializing in in-home care. 

If your symptoms prevent you from safely preparing a meal, certain Medicare Advantage plans may offer meal delivery services for pre-prepared, nutritionally balanced meals. These are a better alternative to take-out or frozen meals, as they lack the heavily processed elements that can lead to another stroke.

If you’re curious how else Medicare Advantage can help, call a licensed agent at (800) 950-0608, or enter your zip code into our free comparison tool to begin your search today!


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