A stroke damages the brain, but this simple statement doesn’t say too much about the long-term medical problems the survivor may need face. The brain is our most complex organ; damage in one area may not cause the same issues as damage a fraction to the side.
Furthermore, no two patients experience the same issues even if they have injured the same area.
The wide variety of possible disabilities do fall under five main groups: Problems with movement, sensory function, communication (both expressing oneself and understanding others), thinking and memory, and emotional issues.
These can range from difficulty with coordination, to muscle weakness (usually on one side), all the way to paralysis. Here are a few common issues:
- Paralysis of the face, arm, leg, or the entire side of the body. This is usually on the side opposite the half of the brain that was damaged by the stroke.
- Paresis. A less severe form of paralysis. The affected side is weak but the survivor can still move it.
- Dysphagia, or problems swallowing; the muscles of the mouth and throat just won’t cooperate.
- Ataxia. Trouble with coordination. This affects balance and walking.
- Paresthesias. Numbness, pain, or tingling felt in weakened or paralyzed limbs.
- Sensory loss. It may be a partial or complete sensory loss, for example, lost peripheral vision versus blindness.
- Urinary incontinence. This is often from a combination of factors. The survivor is unable to feel the urge to urinate and the bladder muscles are weakened.
- Chronic pain may come from damage to the nerves within the body, or malfunctioning pain centers in the brain.
Problems Understanding and Using Language
Many people have speech and language problems after a stroke. They may face difficulty with:
- Speaking, due to weak face muscles
- Handwriting, caused by paresis or paralysis of the hand.
- Expressive Aphasia. Problems putting their thoughts into coherent sentences. They may say key words that they mean, but the sentences are scrambled up. This is caused by damage to Broca’s Area in the brain.
- Receptive Aphasia. Difficulty understanding what people say to them, often with great issues expressing themselves.
They may say grammatically correct sentences that make no sense.This comes from damage to Wernicke’s Area of the brain.
- Global Aphasia. Both expressive and receptive aphasia.
Problems with Learning, Thinking, and Memory
People with these disabilities may find it difficult or impossible to:
- Follow proper sequences, for example, putting on clothes in the right order when getting dressed in the morning.
- Remember their loved ones, their own name, or important moments from their past.
- Make new memories and remember plans for later in the day.
- Learn new tasks.
A grieving process, including denial, anger, and fear, is natural in these situations.
This can spiral into clinical depression, if not monitored closely.
On the other hand, some kinds of brain damage cause sudden emotional shifts and personality changes.
Your Medical Team and You
A stroke, and the disabilities it brings, is a major life change that can challenge the strongest person. Healing is a long, slow process, but the survivor has a lot of help on their journey. There are Rehabilitation therapists and other medical specialists for every disability, and they can guide the person to live the healthiest, most independent life possible.