A stroke usually results in damage to the brain. Some of the effects will be permanent. Others, temporary. Through exercises and practice, your relative may regain many if not all of his or her physical abilities.
The emotional toll. What takes most patients and families by surprise are the emotional changes that can come with a stroke. Depression is common. Some 30% to 50% of stroke survivors experience depression. Sometimes severe depression—to the point of suicide. Becoming suddenly dependent on others may trigger down feelings. For instance, needing help with basic activities, such as dressing or eating. Even if there is no disability, the stroke’s injury to the brain may itself cause depression, even a long-lasting depression.
Does your loved one laugh or cry out of the blue? These unexpected emotional storms are another common outcome of a stroke. They are often out of sync with current activities and can be very distressing. Your loved one may feel hijacked by his or her feelings. And both you and your relative may feel embarrassed, and worried. Ask your loved one how you can help: Briefly check in and move on? Or should you actively offer comfort? Distraction, slow breathing, and relaxation exercises can help interrupt such episodes. In social situations, let others know this is simply an aftereffect from the stroke.
If you even think depression might be an issue, ask the doctor. Talk of suicide should be taken seriously. Also talk of feeling worthless or hopeless. Depression left untreated could become a chronic problem that lasts for years. Help is possible. Several medications for depression have proven quite effective for both post-stroke depression and for the bouts of unexpected crying or laughing. Get connected with others, too. Support groups provide reassurance and useful tips for families and for the person who had the stroke.