As a part of Stroke Month, last week I wanted to touch on the signs and
symptoms of strokes, and why it is so important that to call 9-1-1 immediately
if a stroke is suspected. This week I want to raise the topic of stroke
recovery. If you've ever had experience with a loved one after a stroke,
you know there is more to recovery than regaining movement and speech.
Survivors also face an uphill battle when it comes to regaining their
emotional and cognitive abilities.
While stroke affects everyone differently, often the impact on a survivor’s
personality is the most difficult for family and friends to understand
and to become accustomed. It’s normal for emotional changes to occur
after any type of stroke. Mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and
Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA) are fairly common results of stroke and can
be profound when it means a loss of independence.
Psuedobulbar affect, known also as “emotional liability,” or
“reflex crying” can stress the lives of survivors, by making
social interaction unpredictable and difficult. Depression is typically
the most common emotional change after stroke, but other psychological
changes can be just as debilitating and frustrating.
It is also common for stroke survivors to experience cognitive challenges
in thinking, such as difficulty solving problems, present memory issues
and other types of communication challenges. Many survivors experience
some level of apathy and don’t seem to care about anything. This
can be mistaken for depression, when survivors seem content to sit and
stare off into space.
While rehabilitation is difficult, it is possible to get back to a fairly
normal life. There are a number of workable solutions to most difficult
situations if the problems are approached with patience, ingenuity, perseverance
and creativity. Early recovery and rehabilitation can improve functions
and sometimes remarkable recoveries for someone who suffered a stroke.
At St. Mary’s Medical Center, we are committed to giving our patients
all the tools and resources available to support them in their recovery.
Below are some tips we’ve put together for stroke survivors during
the rehabilitation process:
- Believe in yourself. The biggest mistake most stroke survivors make is
assuming a full recovery is not possible – but it is.
- Make repetition your new best friend. Practicing rehab exercises sporadically
will not encourage recovery. The brain needs a high number of repetitions
to successfully rewire itself and heal.
- Set goals and measure your progress. Approaching rehab exercises indifferently
won’t motivate you to keep moving forward. Set benchmarks and take
steps to actively get there.
- Lean on friends and family. You are likely to have a team of therapists
and doctors who will support you through your recovery. But, when you
are on your own, be sure to schedule time with friends and family to socialized
and relax. This will help tremendously in easing depression or anxiety.
- Understand all possible side effects. Stroke side effects vary and may
not develop until later on in recovery, like emotional lability. By staying
on top of the potential side effects that you may experience, you can
avoid panicking if something goes wrong.
Rehab sessions consume a minimum of three hours a day for most patients.
But, starting early--especially in that first month, with dedication to
a plan, statistics confirm better outcomes for stroke survivors.
We also want to encourage family and friends to take a role in the recovery
process. Below are a couple tips for those of you who are on the caregiver
side of the equation.
Get stroke smart.After a stroke, you’ll enter a new world with unfamiliar words, people
and routines. Lack of knowledge is one of the biggest initial hurdles
you’ll face. Be sure to talk with the patient’s healthcare
team every chance you get and attend support groups.
- Meet the team. Be sure to meet with the doctors and nurses caring for your
loved one. This team can guide you through the recovery process. Don’t
be shy about asking questions!
Advocate for rehab. One of the most important parts of recovering from a stroke is rehabilitation,
which can help your loved one regain independence. Work with the doctor
to ensure that rehab is part of the recovery plan after being discharged
from the hospital.
Take notes.As a caregiver, you’ll likely be tasked with coordinating healthcare
needs, such as medications and rehab appointments. Taking notes keeps
- Create a safe place. It can be scary for you and stroke survivor to come
home. Ask the care team what can be done to make the home safer. They
may suggest removing rugs to prevent falls or installing grab bars in
the bathroom to help with stability.
- Help prevent another stroke. Stroke survivors are at higher risk for having
another one, so encourage lifestyle changes that lower your loved one’s
risk. Healthy, low-fat meals, daily exercise routines, medication reminders
and keeping doctor appointments are all good steps for keeping them on track.
Finally, remember - when stroke occurs, time is the enemy. Time lost is
brain lost. Learn the signs of stroke and call 9-1-1.
Barbara Miller is St. Mary's Stroke Program Coordinator and can be
reached at 816-655-5563.