May is American Stroke Month, and we are taking this opportunity to offer some basic information about one of the most common reasons for long-term disability claims. So far, we have reviewed the types of stroke and talked a little about the physical and cognitive damage a stroke can inflict. During recovery, patients can also experience emotional ups and downs, because the stroke has damaged the part of the brain that controls emotions and, at times, behavior.
The emotional and behavioral changes may also be a reaction to the stroke. It's frustrating not to be able to communicate or to perform even the most basic tasks, like brushing your teeth. In many cases, rehabilitation is possible, but it won't be overnight. The biggest challenge for the patient and his or her family is often the patient's emotional well-being.
Depression: A major barrier to recovery
Rehabilitation may include more than physical therapy. According to the American Stroke Association, post-stroke depression affects about 50 percent of stroke survivors. And depression can slow up both physical and mental recovery.
Survivors with depression are less likely to engage fully in treatment, and the situation spirals down from there. Disinterest and lack of motivation affect the patient's energy level; patients become less and less compliant with the plan as the energy level decreases. Recovery is not possible without following the treatment plan, but the depressed survivor is only more disheartened by the lack of progress.
It can be hard for a caregiver -- often a family member -- to recognize depression. Both the patient and his family grieve his injury, and grief is normal, according to rehabilitation professionals. The trick is to keep the patient on task and to focus on even small accomplishments.
What makes depression particularly difficult to diagnose is that some of the symptoms can be caused by the brain injury. Professionals urge caregivers to pay close attention to the patient's behavior and emotional responses. Grieving is natural, but it shouldn't be long-term.
Public News Service, "WI Expert: Post-stroke Depression Often Goes Undiagnosed," Tim Morrissey, May 14, 2012
American Heart Association, About Stroke, accessed May 18, 2012