The effects of stroke have a huge impact on the brain, neural networks, behaviors, and emotions. It is common to experience personality changes, such as feelings of irritability, poor memory, anxiety, depression, or confusion after a stroke. These feelings are a natural response to stroke and reflect a sense of loss for the changes someone has experienced. Although this can be extremely difficult on a person and their loved ones, many of these emotional and behavioral disabilities tend to improve over time. The most common post-stroke emotional changes are related to depression, anxiety, and pseudobulbar affect. These emotional disorders can have a negative effect on recovery and rehabilitation, so it is important to talk to your doctor about therapy and treatment.
Feelings of depression can occur weeks, months, or years after a stroke occurs. Stroke can occur when you’re not expecting it and can have a life-changing impact on a person and their families. The damage that occurs to the brain, certain genetics, and social factors can all contribute to post-stroke depression. Symptoms can vary in duration, intensity, and frequency.
Symptoms of Depression
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feelings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating and memory loss
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Lack of interest in activities
- Aches, pains, and digestive problems
- Feelings of helplessness and worthlessness
If you suffer from post-stroke depression, there are several things you can do to ease the condition. Talk to your support system about your feelings and concerns, or attend a stroke support group. Practice stress and anxiety management techniques, and stay as active as possible. Set realistic goals and get out into the community. Most importantly, be patient with yourself and your loved ones. Often times, this is not something you can manage on your own, and that is okay. Talk to your doctor about medication, mental health therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or other treatment options for depression.
Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)
PBA is one of the most common post-stroke behavioral conditions, and it can be an embarrassing and frustrating impact on a stroke survivor’s social life. It is characterized by sudden outbursts of uncontrollable laughing and/or crying. It is often misdiagnosed as depression. PBA can occur at random times and even in inappropriate social situations. The good news is that PBA is totally treatable, so long as it is properly diagnosed.
If you find yourself, or a loved one, experiencing a PBA attack, there are several tips to alleviate the situation. Make sure people are aware of the problem so that there is no tension and confusion when the outburst occurs, which can make the survivor feel self-conscious and unsupported. If you feel an attack coming on, try to distract yourself by thinking about something unrelated or changing your body position. During an episode, take slow and deep breaths and try to relax your muscles. These coping techniques should be used along with your doctor’s recommended treatment approach.
If you or a loved one are experiencing emotional and behavioral changes after suffering from stroke, you are not alone. Be patient and accept help from your support group; these changes are rarely permanent. If you are part of a support system, it is important to know how to care for a stroke survivor. It may be beneficial to learn about alternative treatment options, like CBC Health’s cord blood-based ischemic stroke recovery treatment. Read through our frequently asked questions about stroke, treatment, and recovery to learn more!