IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Aaron Sorkin reveals he had a stroke at 61: 'It was a loud wake-up call'

Aaron Sorkin shares the signs that helped him get treated for stroke and the lifestyle changes he made since then.
/ Source: TODAY

Aaron Sorkin opened up to the New York Times about a recent health scare. In November of last year, the 61-year-old began stumbling around one night. The next day, he experienced hand tremors. He soon learned he'd had a stroke.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Sorkin said his doctor told him, according the New York Times.

Since then, Sorkin has experienced slurred speech, difficulty with fine motor skills, such as signing his name, and loss of taste.

“Mostly it was a loud wake-up call,” the “West Wing” creator told the Times. “I thought I was one of those people who could eat whatever he wanted, smoke as much as he wanted, and it’s not going to affect me. Boy, was I wrong.”

What is stroke?  

There are a three different types of strokes, according to the American Stroke Association. The first, an ischemic stroke, occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel from carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain. The second, called a hemorrhagic stroke, is when blood vessels rupture, stopping blood flow to the brain.

Risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease

“Stroke is the leading cause of disability and is still one of the leading causes of death in the nation,” Dr. Shahram Majidi, an endovascular neurosurgeon and assistant professor of neurosurgery, neurology and radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told in 2022. “The good part is that it is a treatable disease.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain lifestyle factors also increase one’s risk of stroke, including:

  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Imbibing in too much alcohol
  • Eating foods with high amounts of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol
  • Smoking

Sorkin said he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, often as he wrote, according to the New York Times. He quit smoking and changed his lifestyle to include regular exercise and healthy foods.

What are the signs of stroke?

When thinking of signs of stroke, the American Heart Association wants people to think FAST, which stands for:

  • F: Facial drooping
  • A: Arm weakness
  • S: Slurred speech or difficult speaking
  • T: Time equals brain, the quicker to the hospital, the more brain saved

“On average every minute 2 million brain cells are dying during stroke,” Majidi told TODAY. “You can tell why time is brain and how important every minute is.”

If anyone experiences signs of stroke, it's a medical emergency, and they should seek help immediately.

“This is not something that you can take a nap on and feel like, ‘OK let’s just take it easy for a few hours and just go to bed earlier and I will be fine,’” Majidi said. “When the classic signs of a stroke happen, you should call 911.”

Preventing stroke

Some of the risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, do not have symptoms that people feel.

“Hypertension is often referred to as a silent killer,” Dr. Matthew Tomey, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York, told in 2022. “You can have high blood pressure for many years without being aware of symptoms or signs of high blood pressure.”

That’s why preventive medicine remains important, and experts urge people to have a relationship with a doctor. Regular screening can help doctors detect high blood pressure and high cholesterol, often in the early stages. This allows them to treat the condition with both lifestyle changes and prescription medication.

“A relationship with a primary care doctor … is one of the best ways a person can be aware of their blood pressure numbers and to get good advice on easy first steps to better control their blood pressure,” Tomey said. “As blood pressure goes up, the risk of heart disease and stroke go up.”