She was on her way to answer the door when it happened. Minutes later, she found herself sitting on a chair in the front hall. What happened? Why was she there?

My mother didn’t know it, but she’d had a TIA, a transient ischemic attack.

TIAs are caused by a small blockage of blood in one of the tiny vessels in the brain. The blockage is insignificant and unlike clots, breaks up on its on. Stroke and TIA symptoms are similar but, whereas stroke impairments can last a lifetime or even cause death, TIA symptoms go away in minutes or hours.

The most common signs of a TIA are:

  • Unusual confusion or memory loss. (Note the word unusual.)
  • Weakness, numbness or tingling on one side or the other.
  • Trouble speaking.
  • Difficulty reading or writing.
  • Unusually severe headache
  • Unusual visual problems in one or both eyes

TIA’s are sometimes called mini strokes and may even feel like the real thing. So how can you tell the difference? By remembering that TIA symptoms last only a few seconds up to a minute or so and will most often disappear within an hour.

The day my mother had her TIA, a granddaughter happened by. Although mom had recovered nicely, the granddaughter called me, and I called the doctor.  Here’s where it got sticky because there were a number of things I could choose to do.

Number 1. I could do nothing.

At the time, my mother was in her late eighties. She lived alone in her house where everything was familiar. She had day help a few times a week. By the time I arrived, she appeared fine though shaken by the experience.

Number 2. I could take her to the doctor. He would check her blood pressure, listen to her heart, do some routine tests, and be sure she was taking her meds. If he found anything suspicious, he would (a) order more tests or (b) send her the hospital.

Number 3. I could call 911.

Number 4. I could take her to the hospital where they would do a brain scan, an MRI, and an angiogram. Plus an echocardiogram, and EKG and an ultrasound to visualize her carotid arteries. If they suspected she had an undiagnosed heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol they would do more tests.

Which option do you think I chose?

What would you have done?


4 Responses to TIA’s

  • I think you chose to let her stay in her home. You didn’t see the need to put her through all the turmoil which inevitably would change nothing. You probably stayed to reassure her for a time, this is what I would have done. She probably wished to stay put. The other options would have been equally understandable based on your concern, but this is what I think you chose. Life is all about choices, isn’t it?

  • Theresa Hupp says:

    I appreciated reading this post. My mother just went through this — my dad put her in the hospital, and it took 6 days to get the tests done, address her anemia, and determine that “probably” she had had one or more TIAs. She has Alzheimer’s, is no longer mobile, needs help with all activities of daily living, and is beginning to have trouble swallowing. Being in the hospital was traumatic for her, and it has taken over a week to get her back to “almost” where she was before she went into the hospital.
    What will we do next time?
    As Carole says, life is all about choices.

    • Theresa,
      I fully understand your father’s reasoning. I would have done the same thing had I not worked for so many years in a hospital and felt I knew how stressful an admittance of this kind could be.
      We do the best we can for our loved one.
      Decisions. Decisions.

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