Life after stroke: Regaining Independence
Stroke. You’ve probably had your doctor warn you about your increased risk, or have even had someone in your life experience it. It is responsible for the death of at least 140,000 Americans each year, and it is the leading cause of serious, long-term disabilities, according to the Internet Stroke Center. It can and does happen at any age, but almost three-fourths of strokes occur in people over the age of 65. In fact, the risk of having one more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. Though this unfortunate condition is commonly experienced, people often underestimate it, until it is too late. Find out the different types of strokes and how to have a full and happy life after stroke.
What are the types of stroke?
There are three different types of stroke, all of which involve the disruption of blood flow to areas of the brain. Because the brain cells don’t have sufficient oxygen and nutrients to continue functioning, they die. This produces diverse effects, depending on the magnitude and location the attack occurs.
1. Ischemic stroke
Accounts for 87 percent of all cases. It occurs when a blood vessel is blocked from supplying blood to the brain area. Fatty deposits collect around the lining of vessel walls, and over time, the deposits collect until blood can no longer pass through the vessel.
2. Hemorrhagic strokes
Occur when a weakened blood vessel bursts open, and the blood to spills out and around the brain cells. Weakened blood vessels can occur in two ways- one way is known as an aneurysm, when a region of the blood vessel balloons until it bursts, and the other is known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), when there is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, in which any one of them has the chance of bursting. When the weakened blood vessel bursts, the blood pushes and compresses the surrounding brain tissues, causing the attack.
3. Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA)
Commonly known as a “mini stroke”. This kind is also characterized by clotting, but the clotting is more temporary, meaning that the symptoms occur more rapidly and for a shorter time. Typically, TIAs do not cause permanent injury to the brain, but they should be viewed as a very serious warning sign.
What happens after a stroke?
Stroke can occur almost anywhere in the brain. The impacts are different from person to person. It largely depends on the amount of tissue affected and the location of the attack. The risk of another stroke occurring also increases once a person has already experienced one.
Strokes that occur on the right side of the brain can cause paralysis on the left side of the body, memory loss, vision impairments, and changes in behavior. Attacks on the left side can cause paralysis on the right side of the body, speech language problems, memory loss, and changes in behavior. When one occurs in the brain stem, it can effect both sides of the body, and often causes a “locked in” state, where the person is not able to speak or move below the neck.
After experiencing an attack, the person may experience emotional, behavioral, and physical challenges. In many cases, stroke victims need to re-learn many everyday activities and other activities they may have once enjoyed. However, one of the greatest things a survivor can have is the love and support of their family members to guide them through recovery. According to the American Stroke Association, there are several steps that are key in the rehabilitation of a stroke victim.
1. Improvement of mobility and regaining the ability to do daily tasks
The activities we may take for granted every day, such as showering, cooking, or even making a ponytail, can be really challenging for a stroke victim. As the caregiver, the best thing you can do is motivate and support the person as they learn all over again. Encourage them to keep challenging themselves by using their weaker hands when they’re getting ready in the morning, for example. The American Stroke Association features many videos on youtube that give stroke victims tips for daily living.
2. Personalized post-stroke exercise programs
After a stroke, the person will most likely work with a team of specialists who will design exercise regimens suitable for the individual. Physical therapists will help restore mobility and range of motion, as well as address balance and paralysis issues. Occupational therapists can help regain fine motor skills that can help with daily activities, such as eating, dressing, and taking care of yourself. There are also cognitive training programs available that are created specifically with stroke victims in mind. Remember that stroke rehabilitation doesn’t end at physical therapy, but needs to extend into cognitive rehabilitation for optimal recovery.
3. Engaging cognitive activities
Right-brain strokes victims tend to have trouble learning new information. To regain that memory, it helps to associate the information with something you already remember. You could also try visualizing something that you want to remember. Repetition and rehearsal of the information is also useful, but will also take a lot of patience on the caregiver’s part. Of course, writing down everything in a calendar or notebook will also prove to be very beneficial.
Strokes on the right side also impact problem solving skills. The person might make irrational decisions, without considering their own safety. Card games, board games, and even some computer software can help them redevelop the skill of thinking through situations rationally.
4. Speech therapy, eye exercises, and balance training
Stroke patients may experience speech problems. More specifically, a person might experience dysarthria or aphasia. Dysarthria occurs when the weakness of the face or mouth muscles prevents the person from pronouncing words properly. Aphasia occurs when a person is not able to process language enough to either talk to or understand others. Speech and language therapists will work with the person and their family members to find new ways to communicate with the individual.
Eye exercises have been shown to be very beneficial to stroke victims. A stroke may leave the victim with damaged eyesight, ranging from blurry vision to focusing problems. Optometrists can work with the individual to find the best exercises that will lead to rehabilitation.
You might not realize it, but nearly everything we do requires balance. Our bodies automatically balance themselves when we stand or sit. But after a stroke, balance issues require a lot more concentration to everyday tasks. For example, it might be much harder to put on socks or stand in front of a mirror. Most of all, it affects how you walk, so the risk of falling is much greater for a stroke victim. Balance training helps the body relearn how to coordinate itself without feeling any kind of instability. Caregivers and therapists can achieve this by having the patient repeatedly pick up objects while maintaining good posture.
Remember that you can have a life after a stroke, all it takes is time and patience. Take a look at the video below for tips on how to start your stroke recovery step by step!
Healthy life after stroke
Most of all, the most important thing to do after experiencing a stroke is to live a healthier lifestyle. Just by improving physical activity, you can lower your total cholesterol, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce the risk and severity of diabetes. Research from the US Nurses Health Study showed that women who made healthier lifestyle choices reduced their risk by 80 percent. For men, the risk of stroke was lowered as much as 70 percent. In fact, the American Stroke Association encourages everyone to follow these seven steps to reduce your risk of stroke:
- get active
- eat healthier
- lose weight
- stop unhealthy habits (i.e. smoking)
- control cholesterol
- manage blood pressure
- reduce blood sugar
Stroke is an awful disease that effects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. It can come at any time, and often without any type of warning. Living a healthy life is the easiest way to greatly reduce your risk, and knowing how to recognize the symptoms could be the difference between losing and saving a life. For more information, you can visit the American Stroke Association here.
Jessica is a student studying neuroscience and psychology. She is fascinated with all things people, from the way our brains work to how we think. She is always looking for new things to learn, and is eager to help others be inspired.