From Being Scary to Being Scared: Strokes

illustration of a brain
Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

What can and can’t one do after a stroke? Who helps them in our community? What even is a stroke?

Stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked, according to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The lack of blood supply causes brain cell death. Without enough oxygen and nutrients, cells will begin to die after just a few minutes. This, unfortunately, is the fourth leading cause of death, according to the National Stroke Association.

The temporary or permanent effects depend on the type of stroke, according to Dr. Levan Atanelov, CEO and medical director of Steady Strides, a fall prevention and stroke
rehabilitation medical institute in Reisterstown.

“Stroke can affect mental faculties, cause weakness, numbness, difficulty with speech, executive function,” and falling, Atanelov said. Another symptom is dysphagia, or the inability to swallow foods, according to Mary Welkie, a clinical dietitian at the
Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, whose expertise is in working with stroke residents and patients.

Most common, and also most overlooked, is that patients often suffer from depression afterward.

“Patients feel more dependent and frustrated that they cant resume their normal life,”
Atanelov said. “The scary thing about it is how quickly it happens, you were just fine yesterday, planning to drive to work, and today you can’t speak, swallow, look straight, walk, feed yourself, wash yourself, go to the bathroom. Just the shame of having to experience someone washing you down or having to be supervised while you are making it in the bathroom has to be incredible.”

There is hope. Patients can receive occupational therapy to regain functional capabilities. Meanwhile, people like Welkie will help them change their lifestyle. She creates modified diets to prevent stroke and move them toward enjoying food again.

While a fourth of stoke patients recover with minor impairments, according to Healthline, the majority have to live with these lifestyle changes permanently.

A major misconception, Atanelov said, is that life will go on as usual. The family
usually has to help longer, and with more commitment, than many assume.

“Family and the patient often fail to appreciate that this Type A CEO that put fear in everyone is now not even safe to be left alone in a room without constant supervision,” Atanelov said. This is where the patients starts to suffer from depression, knowing they have to depend on people that used to depend on them. The family will have to make dramatic changes to supervise the patients. Some lose free time. Some start working from home. Some have to quit their job altogether.

Welkie actually sees the opposite misconception — family expect the patient to never be the same.

“But I do have some patients who will go home, just on a modified diet. There was one patient who had been on tube eating, but she finally was able to eat by mouth and was going to go home on a modified diet. Those patients who get back to eating by mouth are most inspiring because they’re so happy to get there and so happy to work with you and manage that when they get home,” said Welkie.

Atanelov is supremely relieved when he is able to help patients, who he bonds with, overcome these obstacles. “It’s a gift to me as well as to the patient, that I had the honor to be involved in helping the patient recover. It’s elating to say the least.”

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