LIFE AFTER STROKE
The brain is an extremely complex organ that controls various body functions. This is why stroke affects each person differently depending on what area of the brain was injured, the severity and type of injury, and how recently the stroke occurred. Each stroke and its effects are unique to each stroke survivor.
However, because one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, a stroke affecting one side will result in neurological complications on the opposite side of the body. For example, if the stroke occurs in the brain’s right side, the left side of the body will be affected.
Stroke survivors with LEFT hemisphere brain injury, may experience any or all of the following:
- Weakness, paralysis or altered sensation on the right side of the body.
- Aphasia: difficulty or an inability to speak and write (expressive aphasia) and/or difficulty understanding spoken and written language (receptive aphasia).
- Problems with numerical recognition and calculations (dyscalculia).
- The most common associated emotional reactions are anxiety and depression.
Stroke survivors with RIGHT hemisphere brain injury, may experience any or all of the following:
- Weakness, paralysis or altered sensation on the left side of the body.
- Distorted spatial and perceptual awareness including left sided neglect and problems judging distance, size, position and rate of movement.
- Problems expressing emotions, recognizing the emotions of others, reading “body language” and with social judgment.
- Apparent lack of concern or awareness of their disability and tend to be impulsive.
Stroke survivors with BRAINSTEM and CEREBELLAR injury, may experience any or all of the following:
- Incoordination of arm and/or leg and/or trunk resulting in difficulty standing, walking and difficulty carrying out tasks with one or both arms even though the extremities are not weak or paralyzed.
- Double vision.
- Difficulty swallowing (Dysphagia) and or difficulty speaking (Dysarthrya).
- Crossed or bilateral weakness and/or numbness and/or incoordination.
Following stroke, some areas of the brain may function normally while other areas do not. A person may seem as capable as ever when doing one task, but then be completely unable to perform another task that does not seem to be any more difficult. Often, this is confusing or frustrating to stroke survivors and their caregivers because they do not understand why they get so tired when doing what seems to be a simple task.
Sometimes the person’s pattern of behavior is inconsistent. They may have good days and bad days or some patterns of behavior may fluctuate during the day. Behaviors and performance often get worse when the person is tired or is exposed to too many sensory stimuli.
Some people experience depression and/or lack of motivation because of their brain injury. Medications may be required to help balance the chemistry of the brain post-injury.
Stroke affects everybody differently, and it is difficult to say how much of a recovery is possible. Many stroke survivors experience the most dramatic recovery during their stay in hospital in the weeks after their stroke.
But many stroke survivors continue to improve over a longer time, sometimes over a number of years. Their recovery is in fact a long period of rehabilitation, as they learn to deal with the effects the stroke has had on them.
The main goal of post-stroke rehabilitation is to help survivors become as independent as possible and to attain the best possible quality of life. It involves taking an active approach to ensuring that life goes on for people who have had a stroke. This can mean helping them to acquire new skills or relearn old ones. It may involve helping them adapt to the limitations caused by stroke. Or it can mean helping them find social, emotional and practical support.
Even though rehabilitation does not “cure” stroke, rehabilitation may help stroke survivors relearn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged or teaches survivors new ways of performing tasks to circumvent or compensate for any residual disabilities.
There is a strong consensus among rehabilitation experts that the most important element in any rehabilitation program is carefully directed, well-focused, repetitive practice – the same kind of practice used by all people when they learn a new skill, such as playing the piano.
Post-stroke recovery is dependent upon the extent of injury and is a continuum. The brain reorganizes itself dependent upon the person’s individual environment and his or her personal situation. Recovery from stroke may be a lifelong endeavor. Nevertheless, most individuals do continue to improve and frequently can achieve a satisfying existence.
For additional information on stroke, visit the National Institute of Health’s Discussion of Stroke.