Suffering a Stroke: What it is, what you need to know, and how to recover

If you or a loved one has suffered from a stroke, it can be one of the most—if not the most—disruptive events in a family’s life. The impact of a stroke is not limited to the one afflicted with it and can have physical and emotional consequences for loved ones and caregivers.

For many, questions about what a stroke means for them fall within one of four categories:

  • What does it mean for their health
  • What does it mean for their social life
  • What does it mean for their mobility
  • What kind of burden will it place of loved ones

With these in mind, we must consider the healthcare consequences after a stroke, warning signs in the future, and what someone who has suffered a stroke and their families can do right now to have a successful recovery.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is when blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked, depriving brain cells of the oxygen they need to survive. When cut off from oxygen, brain cell death can follow and the mental functions governed by that part of the brain, like memory or language, can be lost.

The severity of the stroke matters in terms of how much brain tissue death occurs. For example, someone who suffers a mild stroke can experience difficulty remembering certain words or how to vocalize the occasional thought. A severe stroke can result in the complete loss of speech, permanent paralysis on one side of the body, or severe memory loss.

By The Numbers

  • 800,000 people will suffer a stroke every year
  • Every 40 seconds, someone in America will have a stroke
  • Stroke is the 5th leading causes of death in the U.S.
  • Someone dies from a stroke every 4 minutes
  • 80% of strokes can be prevented
  • Stroke is the number 1 cause of adult disability in the U.S.

Two Types of Stroke

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A brain aneurysm burst or weakened blood vessel leak disrupts the flow of blood to brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes are the least common of the two types, but usually results in death.

Ischemic Stroke

A blood clot travels to or develops in the brain, where it blocks blood flow from passing to different areas of the brain.

What Does A Stroke Mean For Mobility?

A stroke can affect all kinds of muscle control, leading to changes in how you move, sit, stand, walk, and balance yourself.

Weakness

Someone who suffers a stroke may feel weakness or paralysis in one of their feet, legs, or arms.

Movement Planning and Coordination

After a stroke, someone might suddenly find it difficult to plan leg movements or struggle coordinating more complex movements, leading to a feeling of clumsiness.

Fatigue

Physical fatigue can set in after moving even short distances, while mental fatigue can make this worse if someone has to struggle to concentrate on usually simple movements.

Pain

Someone who suffers a stroke may suffer pain in their leg, usually in the hip, which will make walking more taxing.

Changes in Muscles Tone

The muscles might become stiffer and tighter, or alternatively, they may become loose and floppy.

Balance

Balancing oneself might become more difficult, leading to bouts of dizziness or unsteadiness.

Contracture

If the muscles tighten, they can become shorter, resulting in the corresponding joint becoming locked into one position.

What Does a Stroke Mean For The Family?

Often times, someone who suffers a stroke will find their role within the family upended. Someone who typically takes care of food preparation can no longer do so or someone who once managed the family finances is no longer capable.

While some might welcome the change, for others, this can result in a loss of self-esteem and depression as the activities that made them feel like an indispensable part of a family must be carried out by others.

Other cultural considerations might impact this as well, as a persons social standing in their community might be impacted by their inability to carry out certain tasks that their culture typically assigns to them.

A stroke can also disrupt the normal sexual intimacy that someone and their partner have come to expect.

While it should be noted that sex rarely causes the recurrence of a stroke—especially since by the time someone returns home after suffering a stroke, the danger of a recurrence has generally passed—this can still lead to hesitancy on the part of one or both partners.

Moreover, psychological factors stemming from a stroke can make sexual intercourse more difficult.

Regardless of the cause, it is advised to speak to a social worker or a general practitioner for appropriate guidance.

Health Concerns for a Stroke Sufferer

Depending on the area of the brain affected by the stroke, physical therapy will most likely be recommended.

It may become necessary to relearn basic skills like getting out of bed, walking, brushing your teeth, or bathing. Before leaving the hospital, someone who has suffered a stroke will likely be tested to make sure they can properly swallow food, water, and medication, as a stroke might make it more likely that these things are misdirected into the lungs instead of the stomach, leading to major health problems.

Because a stroke occurs in the brain, it isn’t unusual for stroke sufferers to experience personality changes, inappropriate behavior, depression, and mood swings. It is important to treat mental and emotional health problems as seriously as physical health problems if someone wishes to make a successful recovery.

What Can You Do Now?

If you or someone you love has suffered a stroke, this can be a very trying time, but there are some important things to remember.

Stroke Victims Are Still the Same Person

Even though there might be noticeable changes in behavior, mood, or personality, someone who suffers a stroke doesn’t lose who they are. They are still the same person they were before they suffered their stroke, they just have unexpected challenges to navigate. One should never lose sight of that.

Recovery is Possible

A recent study has shown that 2/3rds of stroke sufferers have complete mental health, meaning that despite what is inarguably a major health event, a complete mental recovery may be possible. It is important to work with doctors and psychologists to achieve the most successful recovery possible.

Pay Attention to Yourself as a Caregiver

If your loved one has suffered a stroke, a lot of attention will be rightfully spent on your loved one, making sure they get the care that they need. Not nearly as much attention is given to the caregiver, the loved one who is now put in the difficult position of providing the kind of around the clock care that they are neither trained for nor are they emotionally and psychologically prepared to handle.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility put upon you, understand that it isn’t your fault. No one is prepared for this kind of circumstance.

It’s important that you reach out to others in your family or community for help when you need it to give yourself regular respite in order to recharge. If no one is available to help, speak to a social worker about what options you may have for professional outside help.

It’s important that you don’t just try to tough it out. The emotional and psychological toll of caring for someone who has suffered a stroke can wear down the most strong willed caregiver and lead to depression, anxiety, and frustration.

This can turn into neglect and abuse without your realizing it, so don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it. You and your loved one will be much better off for it.