Study Looks at Impact of Stroke Beyond Physical Disability

CLEVELAND – Life after suffering a stroke typically involves some degree of physical disability.

But according to a new Cleveland Clinic study, the physical effects of a stroke are only one piece of the puzzle for many people.

Cleveland Clinic’s Irene Katzan, M.D., an author of the study, said the research uncovered three main areas where stroke survivors experienced the most change in their daily lives.

“The three aspects of health that were most impacted in patients who have had stroke are physical function, cognitive abilities – their ability to think through things – and their satisfaction with their roles in society,” said Dr. Katzan.

The study looked at 1,195 people who had suffered an ischemic stroke, which is the type of stroke where blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. Participants answered questions about aspects of their physical function and quality of life.

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Dr. Katzan said previous studies have looked at mental well-being following a stroke, but that this study was able to compare just how much these people felt impacted by thinking and social challenges in relation to their physical and emotional challenges.

In this study, participants found these challenges to be almost equal.

Cleveland Clinic’s Irene Katzan, M.D., said that one of the fewer recognized issues for survivors of stroke include difficulties with thinking and feeling disconnected from society.

While 63 percent reported greater physical challenges following a stroke, compared to the general population, 46 percent reported having increased difficulty with thinking.  Likewise, 58 percent reported greater dissatisfaction with their ability to participate in social and work-related activities.

Dr. Katzan said more needs to be done to focus on the thinking and social problems that people face after a stroke, because they can greatly impact a person’s overall quality of life.

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She says the study provides an opportunity for caregivers and family members to understand what these stroke survivors are going through.

“A decline in physical function is the hallmark of a stroke, but fewer people realize that stroke patients also have difficulties with thinking, and that stroke patients really can feel disconnected from society and from their previous roles in society, which can be very dissatisfying for them,” said Dr. Katzan. 

Dr. Katzan believes that it can be useful for stroke survivors to talk to their family or their doctor about these problems. While there are currently no specific treatments that can improve a person’s ability to think, she said there are strategies that caregivers can use, such as creating lists and dividing up responsibilities, that can help.

Complete results of the study can be found in Neurology.