Strokes affect nearly 800,000 people every year in the United States. Nearly three-fourths of those affect people over the age of 65. While the immediate effects of a stroke are disastrous, killing nearly 140,000 Americans each year, in many cases, the long-term effects can also be devastating. It isn’t just the costs associated with medical care and lost work, it’s also after-care.
The long-term effects of a stroke on people impact both the body and mind, with several complications. While most, such as trouble with balance and memory loss are well known, other complications are not. Here are four lesser-known things that caregivers should be aware of when treating someone recovering from a stroke.
- Dysphagia – Dysphagia is when a person has trouble swallowing. In stroke victims, this can be caused by weakness in the muscles in the throat. This is a problem because it makes it difficult to eat or drink. One dangerous side effect of dysphagia is when the stroke victim aspirates their food while trying to swallow – that is, they end up breathing it in – which can cause major damage to the lungs and increases the risk of pneumonia.
A way to help prevent aspiration is to use a thickener on their liquids and thin foods. Products such as SimplyThick work to add density without changing the flavor, allowing liquids to be ingested without worry of aspiration. This helps alleviate dehydration, which is another major concern for stroke victims.
- Depression – While a feeling of sadness after suffering a stroke is completely normal, suffering a major depressive episode is not. It’s important to monitor the mental well-being of someone who has suffered a stroke, because their mental and emotional health can go a long way to preventing another stroke. Some signs to watch for that may indicate a major depressive episode include a loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy as well as just a general feeling of sadness that persists for a number of consecutive days.
There are medications that can help with treating depression, but they should be carefully monitored to avoid any potential interactions with existing medication.
- Incontinence – Loss of bladder and bowel control can be extremely frustrating and embarrassing for someone who has suffered a stroke. The range of incontinence will vary according to the severity of the stroke. In most cases, depending on how mobile the person is, incontinence pads or underwear will allow freedom of movement. For someone who is bedridden, portable urinals or bedpans kept close at hand will help. In severe cases, it may be best for the person recovering from the stroke to have someone that offers qualified in-home stroke recovery care.
- Mood Swings – It is not uncommon for a recovering victim of stroke to experience rapid mood swings. These may manifest in many different emotions, ranging from bouts of crying to fits of laughter. Anger and frustration may appear and be directed at random people or objects at random times. It’s important to understand that these mood swings are likely responses to a feeling of helplessness or lack of control over their situation. In these cases, empathy is the best response.
For some stroke victims, adjusting to life after the effects of the stroke will take some time. Counseling is an excellent option to help them get professional support as they work through this emotionally and physically draining time.
Dealing with a stroke is an event that affects not only the person suffering from the stroke, but also their loved ones. Family members need to help each other in caring for a stroke patient. Make sure everyone takes their turn doing things that need to be done. Get help from an outside source if you are not able to handle all there is to do. A study by the Department of Veterans Affairs and endorsed by the American Stroke Association recommends a multi-faceted approach to stroke rehabilitation. With proper recovery and rehabilitation treatment care, stroke victims can live full lives even with moderate impairment.