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How Emotions, Thinking, and Memory Are Affected by Stroke

Effects on Thinking and Memory

A stroke can cause damage to parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and awareness. Stroke survivors may have dramatically shortened attention spans or may experience deficits in short-term memory. Individuals may also lose their ability to:
 
  • Make plans
  • Comprehend meaning
  • Learn new tasks
  • Engage in other complex mental activities.
 
Two fairly common deficits resulting from stroke are:
 
  • Anosognosia, which is an inability to acknowledge the reality of the physical impairments resulting from stroke
 
  • Neglect, the loss of the ability to respond to objects or sensory stimuli located on one side of the body, usually the stroke-impaired side.
 
Stroke survivors may also develop a neurological disorder known as apraxia. People with apraxia lose their ability to plan the steps involved in a complex task and to carry the steps out in the proper sequence. Stroke survivors with apraxia may also have problems following a set of instructions. Apraxia appears to be caused by a disruption of the subtle connections that exist between thought and action.
 
(Click Apraxia for more information.)
 

Effects on Emotions

Many people who survive a stroke feel:
 
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • A sense of grief for their physical and mental losses.
 
These feelings are a natural response to the psychological trauma of stroke. Some emotional disturbances and personality changes result from the physical effects of brain damage. Clinical depression, which is a sense of hopelessness that disrupts an individual's ability to function, appears to be the emotional disorder most commonly experienced by stroke survivors. Signs of clinical depression include:
 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A radical change in eating patterns that may lead to sudden weight loss or gain
  • Lethargy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts.
 
Healthcare providers may treat post-stroke depression with antidepressant medications and psychological counseling.
 
(Click Stroke and Depression for more information about the link between stroke and depression.)
 
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