Coping With Post-stroke Cognitive Changes

Stroke survivors can experience a range of cognitive changes as a result of their stroke. While these changes can be disturbing and unsettling, it is possible to take advantage of certain therapies to reverse some of these changes or learn to cope with them more effectively.

Common Cognitive Changes In Stroke Survivors

As is the case with all post-stroke symptoms, the particular part of the brain involved in the stroke will determine the cognitive changes experienced by the stroke survivor Stroke survivors may notice deficits or changes in:

  • Executive functioning (planning, performing more complex tasks)
  • Memory
  • Affect (caused by a neurological disorder called pseudobulbar affect, or PBA)
  • Attention
  • Information processing
  • Personality

Stroke survivors who experience cognitive changes caused by a stroke may notice issues in only one of these areas or multiple domains. The effects depend on the extent of damage and can be mild, moderate or severe.

Cognitive Rehabilitation Treatment

Cognitive rehabilitation can help patients reduce the effects of these changes or even largely reverse them. This type of therapy leverages neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ongoing ability to form new neural networks to restore functioning. In this specialized type of therapy, stroke survivors may either learn how to use strategies and tools (like planners, timers and photos) to support their cognition or practice specialized exercises that enhance attention or other brain functions. Stroke survivors often work with a neuropsychologist or speech therapist for this type of rehabilitation, although other providers may also practice this specialty.

Strategies to Manage Cognitive Changes

In some cases, cognitive rehabilitation treatment may not fully erase the deficits. In these For these stroke survivors, symptom management approaches can be useful in reduce the effects of the cognitive changes on the patient’s day-to-day activities. Coping strategies may include:

  • Eliminating multi-tasking: In reality, nobody can really do more than one thing at a time very well, especially stroke survivors. Focusing your energy on a single task can be valuable.
  • Anticipating that things will take more time: Build extra time into your schedule to reduce the stress that can be brought on by certain tasks.
  • Focusing on what you can do: Even if you have experienced cognitive changes, you still retain some important capabilities. Emphasize the value of those.

Although cognitive changes are common among stroke survivors, they don’t have to be permanent. If you are concerned about post-stroke cognitive change, talk to your physician to see what type of treatment could be most beneficial to you.