The personal impact of having a stroke
The effect of a stroke isn't just physical – it's often emotional, too. Our psychologist explains more.
When Bill Gasiamis experienced a stroke in 2012, a delay in seeking medical help and a subsequent seizure left him struggling with devastating physical and emotional symptoms.
A slow road to recovery
The physical changes resulting from a stroke can depend on which area of the brain is injured, how much of the brain has been permanently damaged and whether the damaged side is your dominant side, plus your age and overall health.
Depending on the extent and the area that was damaged, recovery can be difficult and slow, which can leave stroke survivors feeling frustrated, anxious and sometimes depressed.
Effects on the body
Stroke survivors may have problems such as weakness and swelling in their arms or legs, stiff or painful joints, and muscle tingling or spasms. This can make it difficult for them to hold things or co-ordinate their movement. They may also experience loss of sensation, or lose their ability to perceive heat or cold.
Feeling very tired is also common. Bill recalls that, following his stroke, fatigue made the once simple act of walking a very trying task.
“It was difficult for me to walk for five metres without becoming extremely exhausted.”
These effects can also be very frustrating, especially as actions that were once easy now require more effort. It’s important to remember that recovery takes time, and although the progress may seem slow, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Even small improvements can have a positive effect and it’s important to notice and celebrate these.
Effects on the mind
A stroke can also affect how your brain processes information. Depending on the area that has been damaged, your memory, learning and awareness can all be affected, as can written or verbal communication, meaning that stroke survivors can sometimes lose the ability to speak and can struggle to communicate.
For Bill, this meant that he struggled to form and complete sentences, had difficultly reading and concentrating, and would often forget to feed the cat.
Sleep can also be affected, which can make memory and perception problems worse. If you find that your sleep is affected following a stroke, talk to your doctor.
These difficulties can also impact on you emotionally, leading to feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. If you're finding you're struggling with this, talk to your doctor who may be able to refer you to a psychologist or arrange for other help and support.
Effects on emotions
Experiencing loss of independence can be devastating for a stroke survivor. About one in four people will experience depression after a stroke. Bill experienced a lot of anger, but he also found himself crying "at the drop of a hat" and was highly emotional.
Emotional changes can also be a result of the physical damage to areas of the brain responsible for emotion regulation – indeed, stroke survivors may even find that aspects of their personality or character have been affected.
Because your ability to communicate can be affected, simply expressing feelings and emotions can be very difficult.
Following his stroke, Bill found that speaking with a psychologist was particularly helpful, not only for him but also for his family. Many stroke survivors find that being able to talk about their experiences not only validates what they are experiencing, but also helps them find ways of dealing with their emotional turbulence.
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While the physical effects of a stroke can be devastating, it's also important to understand that these physical effects can also have an emotional impact, and that both aspects need to be treated.