A stroke is a life-changing event that affects the body, the mind and the heart. In addition to possible organic injury to the parts of the brain that control emotions, stroke recovery itself can profoundly alter a patient’s sense of self. Speech, movement and cognitive ability may all be affected by a stroke. Not surprisingly the trauma of such a loss, even if it is only temporary, can cause patients to struggle with fear, anxiety and depression.
While rehabilitation can lead to a full or partial recovery over time, it takes a lot of hard work and the outcome is never certain. Will the patient be able to move at 100% after rehabilitation? Or at 85%? Or less? Asking these questions, and not having exact answers, can be extremely stressful.
If loss of function turns out to be permanent, adjusting to new limitations can be very difficult. The patient may have to relearn how to dress, eat, speak or walk. It can be a challenge not to dwell on what life was like before the stroke. Future plans may need to be altered or abandoned if they depended on a level of functioning that has been permanently lost. Dreams for a certain type of retirement or a future lifestyle may no longer be realistic. This can lead to an overwhelming feeling of loss.
When a patient has had one stroke, a second stroke is more likely. Waiting for that second stroke, whether or not it ever occurs, can be haunting. A person who has had a stroke is never again able to take their health completely for granted. Not only may more strokes occur, but they may also be accompanied by further loss of function. Dealing with an uncertain future puts even more pressure on a recovering stroke patient.
Patients and caregivers need to be sensitive to the emotional aspects of post-stroke recovery. If anxiety or depression is an issue, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider. While physical and cognitive recovery are important, mental health is equally necessary for well-being. Helping patients maintain a positive and hopeful outlook will not only improve the patient’s day-to-day quality of life, but will also help the patient maintain the right attitude and levels of mental energy necessary for generating positive rehabilitation outcomes.