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The emotional side of stroke recovery

Published in For the Health of It Author: Erica L. Klimmek, APRN, CNP

Nurse Practitoner, Stroke Care
CentraCare Clinic – River Campus Neurology

inforgraphicEvery 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. During the road to recovery, we often think about one’s physical changes. These can include helping one recover from loss of strength, regaining the ability to communicate, memory problems or helping someone return and live comfortably at home.

However, with stroke survivors there are often emotional changes. We may dwell on the physical changes in the immediate days after a stroke — but it’s extremely important to be aware of the emotional changes. Among them may include:

  • Grief. A stroke survivor a may feel guilty or ashamed that a stroke happened or dwell on what has been lost.
  • Depression. Along these same lines, stroke survivors can also feel helpless, lose interest in favorite activities and feel restless or irritable. Recognize that it’s not someone’s choice to be depressed. It’s possible that changes to their brain during stroke may make positive emotions difficult. With depression, individuals do have increased thoughts of death or suicide. If you or your loved one needs immediate help:
    • Contact the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center at 320-253-5555.
    • Or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Intimacy Changes. Whether due to the location of the stroke or a side-effect from medications, stroke survivors may have less sexual desire or, at times, feel too tired for intimacy.
  • Changes in Mood and Personality. Depending on the type of stroke, survivors can feel apathy, not pay attention to one side of the body, or become impulsive and not understand consequences.
  • Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). It is possible that stroke survivors can lose control of their emotions. They may suddenly laugh or cry when it’s not appropriate. The cause of this behavior may be due to a disconnect between the different parts of the brain that control emotions and reflexes.

While perfectly some of these feelings are perfectly natural, it’s also important for one to proactively cope and accept their new reality. Whether you are a survivor or a caregiver, it’s important to be social and communicate openly about what you are feeling. Some places where you can turn include: