If someone in your family has a stroke, you may experience a significant change in your life. That person will need great care and support, and there may be a variety of emotional and behavioral changes that you’ll have to be prepared for. This can especially be the case if the stroke occurs at a young age. Not only will a stroke survivor need guidance and encouragement, but a young person recovering from a stroke will need assistance with a wide range of other tasks. According to an article published by Stroke Research and Treatment Magazine, there are many outcomes that “are attributable to the effects of stroke on age-normative roles and activities, self-image, and the young person’s stage in the life-cycle, especially family and work. ‘Hidden’ cognitive impairments, a disrupted sense of self, and the incongruity of suffering an ‘older person’s’ disease is salient.”
Astoundingly, 10% of stroke patients are under the age of 50. The rehabilitation process after a stroke is difficult at any age, and this younger demographic of stroke patients often goes unnoticed, so it’s important to pay special attention to the particular challenges that arise in these cases. With the information provided here, combined with a proactive mindset, you can better a young survivor’s recovery experience.
7 Challenges to Consider for Younger Stroke Patients
Someone who is just starting out in life — beginning a new career, embarking on a new relationship, pursuing a degree, parenthood — must deal with the pressures of finding success and, when you add in the severity of a stroke, the weight of that pressure can be insurmountable. To gain a better perspective of what they’re going though, here are a few things to consider:
1. Loss of Employment
Having a job that provides a sense of responsibility and independence is crucial for a young person trying to find their way in the world. Working gives people purpose and fulfillment, but unfortunately, when a young person experiences a stroke, they will most likely require a substantial amount of time off. In some cases, an individual may not be able to perform their job in the same way, or they may need to stop working altogether. On the bright side, studies have shown that “most of the investigations in long-term prognosis have described good functional recovery in young adults with ischemic stroke, since most patients are independent and at least 50% return to work.”
2. Financial Debt
When a stroke is experienced by someone who doesn’t have the support of a retirement fund, the financial toll can be devastating for both the individual and their family. Combine this strife with the frustration of not being able to work — not to mention that a spouse or other family members may have to stop working as well — and the task of recovery becomes even more daunting. To alleviate this issue, there are disability programs that can aid in paying for medical bills, but the approval process can be arduous, and the wait time can result in the accrual of exorbitant debt.
3. Young People Think They’re Not at Risk
One of the biggest misconceptions young people today have about strokes is that one could never happen to them. They believe that they are simply too young to have health problems that are typically associated with older people, but this is exactly why strokes are on the rise. Risk factors such as tobacco use and hypertension are prevalent among young adults and adolescents, which directly relates to a spike in ischemic strokes throughout this demographic.
In conjunction with number three, medical professionals and family members are quick to incorrectly diagnosis a stroke as something else entirely, because the individual is so young. Because of this error, a person may not receive the care they need to survive. An extreme example of this occurred when a 24-year-old named Lauren Rushen suffered a stroke, and for two weeks her doctors wrote off her symptoms as an infection and inflammation. Finally, after she collapsed on the floor of her home, she was rushed to her local hospital where yet again her attack was ruled a result of substance abuse. Luckily for Lauren, she was able to recover, but others should be aware that there is only a small window of time available for a patient to maximize their chances of rehabilitation.
5. They Have a Long Life Ahead of Them
It’s important to remember that young people who experience a stroke will have time on their side, but a lot of that time will be spent adapting to their setbacks. Arrangements for physical care, mental redevelopment, and financial needs could be necessary for an extended period, especially since the rehabilitation process can last many years (or for a lifetime).
Because many people are not eligible for Medicare until the age of 65, countless young people who experience a stroke may be left without coverage due to multiple factors. First of all, a young person may not even have had insurance prior to their stroke, and if they did, they will most likely become uninsured from not being able to work. The cycle of applying for Medicare and SSDI is difficult to endure, let alone while facing a debilitating ailment.
7. Family Life
For a stroke survivor who is older, family life is typically already structured around support for themselves. This means that an older person has raised their children and now has no immediate responsibility to care for someone else. However, for a younger person, the case is entirely different. A younger survivor may have small children to look after, or might have dreams of one day starting a family. Having a stroke as a young person means these plans are put on hold, or other family members may have to take on more responsibility at home. This can be incredibly stressful to deal with and affects everyone involved.
2 Key Ways to Be Proactive about Stroke Recovery in Young People
As a family member, caregiver, or stroke patient, you need to be ready to deal with the fact that stroke recovery is a serious, delicate, and lengthy process. Not only does it demand attention in all developmental areas, but it also comes along with a severe risk of mortality. In a journal published by the National Institute of Health, studies show that “the long-term prognosis for ischemic stroke in the young is better than in the elderly, but the risk of mortality in young adults with ischemic stroke is much higher than in the general population of the same age.” Taking charge of the situation can make a huge difference in ensuring a stroke survivor’s future, and two things in particular have proven to make the greatest improvements:
Put Stroke Survivors in a Position to Succeed and Prevent a Second Attack
After someone suffers a stroke, they will be faced with a tremendous array of challenges that may seem impossible to overcome. They may feel hopeless and unsure of where to begin their recovery, but this is where the diligence and support of others can make all the difference. If a loved one is going to have a successful recovery, they must be put into a position to succeed. This means that they will require a strong system of mental, physical, and emotional support from family and healthcare professionals, and it also means that certain precautions must be put into place to combat future complications. For example, practicing good habits like eating healthy foods, properly managing medication, engaging in physical activity, and monitoring current conditions can greatly lower the risk of a second attack, while improving a survivor’s current state of health. With over a quarter of stroke patients undergoing a second attack within their lifetime, maintaining good habits is essential and combining them with a consistent rehabilitation program is the surest way to generate positive and lasting results.
Address Rehabilitation as Soon as Possible
Instilling good health practices is always something to keep in mind, but what really makes an impact on a person’s recovery is the rehabilitation process. Rehabilitation is important, because it actively fights against the damage a stroke has caused. Stimulation of the muscles and the mind will aid the body in repairing its impaired functions, and over time, abilities that were lost have the potential to resume normal operation. With the help of rehabilitation, a process known as cortical plasticity begins to take place. Also referred to as neuroplasticity, cortical plasticity is the process the brain undergoes in order to form new neural connections, which leads to regained physicality. The sooner this development can begin, the better a patient’s odds of recovery will be, so working with a healthcare professional and setting goals is a top priority.
The 3 Biggest Things You Can Do to Help Young Stroke Survivors
You have to accept that a person is going to be different after a stroke and, no matter how old they are, they are going to face enormous challenges. The recovery process will no doubt be an uphill battle, but there are three things you can do that will drastically improve a young person’s chances of rehabilitation.
1. Keep Them Motivated
One of the issues that a survivor will face during stroke recovery is lethargy, so it’s important for you to impassion and motivate them whenever possible. A great way to do this is to combine their personal interests with their rehabilitation program. For example, if part of their routine is getting dressed in the morning, you can play a favorite song that will motivate them through the process and make it fun. Even the smallest displays of thoughtfulness can go a long way, so do whatever you can to make them feel loved and supported.
2. Help Them Counteract Learned Non-Use
A difficult thing to overcome for any stroke survivor is the process of learned non-use. After a stroke occurs, a person may not be properly able to move their limbs, and if their extremities aren’t exercised on a consistent basis, they are susceptible to atrophy, or muscle degeneration. To combat this issue, daily movements of the affected areas are highly encouraged. A specific method that has shown success in physical recovery is a form of therapy called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT). This technique restrains the healthy limbs while the survivor works at improving use of the damaged ones however, the survivor must meet specific criteria in order to qualify for this approach.
3. Watch Out for the Recovery Plateau Stage
A stroke survivor’s recovery will always have ups and downs, but something to be wary of is the possibility of a loved one experiencing a plateau phase during their rehabilitation. A recovery plateau refers to a period during which a stroke survivor may encounter a slowed progression in their recovery. This can happen especially if a survivor is dealing with severe physical impairments or cognitive disabilities. The most dramatic phases of recovery tend to occur during the first three to six months after a stroke, and this stage is not a given, so take heart in all the successes of that sub-acute phase to maintain enthusiasm and motivation moving forward.
We Can All Help Young Stroke Survivors Help Themselves
Regardless of a survivor’s age or degree of impairment, stroke recovery support should be offered with the utmost patience and care. Nobody can perfectly predict when a stroke will occur or how survivors and their loved ones will react, but anyone can learn how best to handle the situation, to give survivors the help they need. With the information listed above, you can become a source of encouragement for anyone who has experienced a stroke and, more importantly, you can help them regain lost abilities with dignity.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.
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