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We are wrapping up Stroke Month and with that, I’d like to raise the topic of stroke recovery. If you’ve spent any appreciable time around a stroke survivor, you’ll notice there is a bit more to recovery than regaining movement and speech. Survivors also face an uphill battle when it comes to regaining their emotional and cognitive abilities.

Of all the aspects of life that stroke affects, its impact on a survivor’s personality may be the most difficult for family and friends to understand and to become accustomed. Emotional changes are typical 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.

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 recovering from a stroke is difficult, it is possible. Stroke survivors and their families can find workable solutions to most difficult situations by approaching every problem 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 socialize 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.

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