One of the common tasks of a caregiver is to support stroke survivors and care for them through their recovery. Every year in the US alone, almost 800,000 people have a stroke.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the country, especially since it commonly causes mobility issues.
The process of caring for a stroke patient can be challenging and confusing, so it is important to make sure caregivers understand as much as possible to be able to provide care with confidence.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke is caused by the interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The blood carries oxygen around the body, so when blood can’t get to the brain cells, they will die from lack of oxygen, causing a series of effects on the body.
The medical term for a stroke is a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). The effects of lack of oxygen can be either temporary or permanent.
Sometimes, a stroke can be fatal. In the US, around 1 in 6 cardiovascular deaths is actually from a stroke.
The potential damage of the stroke depends on the size and location of the artery where the blood flow is affected, as well as the cause of the stroke.
The two most common causes of stroke are obstruction and arterial bleeding. Sometimes there are warning signs of a future stroke which may provide an opportunity to prevent it.
Types of Stroke
There are several types of stroke that differ in severity and causes. Here are the most common ones.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
A transient ischemic attack usually lasts only a few minutes and doesn’t cause permanent damage. It can serve as a warning of a future, more serious stroke, and as an opportunity to prevent it.
The signs and symptoms of a TIA resemble those of an early phase of a stroke, and may include a sudden onset of:
Weakness, numbness, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg – typically on one side of your body,
Slurred or garbled speech, or difficulty understanding others,
Blindness or blurry vision in one or both eyes,
And vertigo, or loss of balance or coordination.
Luckily, these symptoms are temporary. They usually last from a few minutes to a few hours, and resolve completely within a day.
An obstruction occurs when plaque or a blood clot block the circulation in the brain. In case of a blood clot (also called a thrombus), it can either form at the site or travel from another site and lodge in a blood vessel.
This is called an ischemic stroke, when the blood flow to the brain is blocked. Ischemic strokes account for an overwhelming majority of all strokes.
Arterial bleeding happens when a blood vessel ruptures at a weak spot in the artery wall. These strokes are called hemorrhagic strokes.
In hemorrhagic strokes, the brain tissue does not get enough oxygen because the blood is leaking out of the blood vessel.
Furthermore, the extra blood causes pressure on the surrounding tissue, leading to swelling and further damage.
An aneurysm can occur on the surface of the brain, or deeper within the brain. The patient’s ability to recover depends on the affected area and the severity of the bleeding.
How a Stroke Affects a Patient
How a stroke affects an individual can be complicated, but the most commonly occurring consequences are paralysis, weakness, behavioral changes, and memory loss.
The exact location of the stroke can greatly affect the symptoms.
Damage to the right side or hemisphere of the brain may result in symptoms that impact the left side of the body. The opposite is true about left-side damage.
Universal Symptoms of Stroke
There are some symptoms that can occur regardless of which hemisphere is affected by the stroke.
An injury to either side of the brain can cause loss of sensations such as temperature or touch.
Loss of bowel or bladder control is a common physical symptom of stroke. Many stroke patients also experience difficulty swallowing, which is called dysphagia.
Cognitive changes are common; a lot of stroke patients feel confused and suffer from loss of cognitive abilities. However, strokes can also cause changes in a person’s behavior or personality.
These can manifest themselves as poor judgment, laughing and crying for no reason or when it is inappropriate.
Whichever side is affected, the patient might show a tendency to ignore the paralyzed or weaker side of the body. This phenomenon is called one-sided neglect.
Symptoms of Right Brain Stroke
There are certain symptoms that only manifest themselves when a particular side of the brain is affected. When there is damage to the right side of the brain, patients typically encounter paralysis or weakness on the left side of the body.
This is sometimes accompanied by loss of vision on the left side of both eyes, which is called hemianopsia.
Because parts of the right side of the brain control perception of space, patients can also experience difficulty or changes in depth perception.
They might have trouble judging how far away or how large something is, or how their movement will affect the space around them.
In terms of behavior and cognitive abilities, right-side stroke sufferers often have problems understanding their limits and don’t realize that there is anything wrong.
They have a quick, impulsive behavioral style and have trouble focusing on tasks. Memory loss is common.
Symptoms of Left Brain Stroke
As with the right, there are also symptoms that are unique to brain damage to the left hemisphere of the brain.
Hemiplegia and hemiparesis – paralysis and weakness of one side of the body – this time occur on the right side of the body. The eyes are affected by the loss of vision on the right side of both eyes. This is also called hemianopsia.
A patient’s ability to speak might be affected. They may experience speech and language deficits, such as an inability to speak or to speak clearly, called expressive aphasia.
Sometimes this is also accompanied by an inability to understand spoken or written words, called receptive aphasia.
Where right brain stroke sufferers tend to be angry and impulsive, people whose left hemisphere is affected tend to have a cautious behavioral style.
Stroke patients often require a lot of care and support. As a caregiver, it is your job to try to understand their condition as well as possible. That will help you work together with their healthcare team to help them to recover at their own pace, adjust to any physical limitations or changes that may not improve, and live with dignity.
Learn more so you can support your clients better. Check out Cornerstone Healthcare Training course CE307|Difference Between a Right and Left Sided Stroke.