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Today, stroke is the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death worldwide. This year, alone, 14.5 million people will experience a stroke and 5.5 of those will die from it. Around 80 million people worldwide are stroke survivors and many of them face significant challenges with physical disabilities, difficulty communicating, loss of income and even decreased social networks. While life might not be quite the same for all stroke survivors, with the right care and support, leading a fulfilling life is still within reach. World Stroke Day is October 29 and St. Mary’s is dedicated to helping spread the word that you can get back up after a stroke!

In my experience, the impact a stroke has on a survivor’s personality is one of the most difficult for family and friends to understand and adapt to. Typical changes in emotions after a stroke include mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). While these changes are common after a stroke and they can be profound when it means a loss of independence.

Social interaction can be difficult and unpredictable for survivors. Pseudobulbar affect, known also as “emotional liability,” or “reflex crying” is a type of emotional disturbance that causes uncontrollable crying, laughing and other emotional displays. The most typical emotional change after a stroke is depression but other psychological changes can be just as debilitating and frustrating.

Some survivors experience 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. Cognitive challenges in thinking, such as difficulty solving problems, present memory issues and other types of communication challenges.

Recovering from a stroke is hard, but it’s possible. Stroke survivors and their families can find practical solutions to most difficult situations with an approach that includes patience, ingenuity, perseverance, and creativity for each problem. Early recovery and rehabilitation can improve functions and sometimes remarkable recoveries for someone who suffered a stroke.

St. Mary’s Stroke Center is among an elite group of providers in the treatment of stroke and are specialized in providing all the tools and resources available to support survivors in their recovery. I’ve pulled together some tips below that we used for stoke survivors during the rehabilitation process:

  • Be confident in yourself. The biggest mistake most stroke survivors make is assuming a full recovery is not possible – but it is.
  • Repetition is your new best friend. Sporadically practicing rehab exercises does not encourage recovery. In order to rewire and heal your brain, it needs a high number of repetitions.
  • Set achievable and measurable goals. Everyone needs motivation to keep moving forward, and stroke recovery is no exception. Set benchmarks and watch the progress happen!
  • Surround yourself with a support group. Your team of therapists and doctors will be there to support you through your recovery. But, once you are on your own, be sure to schedule time with friends and family to socialize and relax. This is key in easing depression or anxiety.
  • Be cognizant of all possible side effects. Some sides effects of strokes develop much later in recovery, such as emotional liability. By understanding the potential side effects that you may experience, you can avoid panicking if something goes wrong.

The earlier you begin rehab, the better. By starting early–especially in that first month, with dedication to a plan, stroke survivors statistically show much better outcomes.

Finally, remember – when stroke occurs, time is the enemy. Time lost is brain lost. Learn the signs of stroke and call 9-1-1.

St. Mary’s Stroke Center can be reached at 816-655-5563.