Physical And Mental Effects Of Stroke

While each stroke is different—depending on the part of the brain injured, the severity of the injury, and the patient’s general health—there are some common after-effects.

Weakness Or Paralysis

Weakness (hemiparesis—hem-ee-par-EE-sis) or paralysis (hemiplegia—hem-ee-PLEE-ja) may affect one whole side of the body, or just an arm or leg. The weakness or paralysis is on the side of the body opposite the side of the brain injured by the stroke. This leads to problems with balance or coordination, because the weight of the weak side pulls against the strong side. It can make it difficult for your loved one to sit, stand, or walk, even if his or her muscles are strong enough to perform these activities.

Problems Using Language

If you loved one has aphasia (a-FAY-zha), he or she may have trouble understanding speech or writing. Or, he or she may understand but be unable to think of the right words to speak or write. A person with dysarthria (dis-AR-three-a) knows the right words but has trouble saying them clearly.

Vision And Perception Problems

Often, stroke survivors, because of vision and perception problems, will not turn to look toward their weakened side. Your loved one, for example, may not eat food from one side of the plate because he or she doesn’t see it.

Cognitive Problems

Strokes often cause problems with memory, thinking, attention, learning, and other mental activities. Your loved one may have trouble with several of these, or just a few. For example, he or she may have trouble following directions, may get confused if something in a room is moved, or may not be able to keep track of the date or time. Your loved one may also be unaware of some of the effects of the stroke, and show poor judgment by trying to do things that are no longer safe.

Pain, Numbness, Or Odd Sensations

These can make it difficult for your loved one to relax and feel comfortable.

Trouble Swallowing

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia—dis-FAY-ja) can make it difficult for your loved one to get enough food. Also, care must sometimes be taken to prevent him or her from breathing in food (aspiration—as-per-AY-shun) while trying to swallow it. He or she may not realize that food is trapped in the affected side of his or her mouth because the tongue is affected as well.

Bowel Or Bladder Control Problems

These problems can be helped with the use of portable urinals, bedpans, and other toileting devices.

Tiring Quickly

Becoming tired very quickly may limit your loved one’s participation and performance in a rehabilitation program.

Sudden Bursts Of Emotion

Sudden bursts of anger, fits of crying, or bouts of laughter may indicate that your loved one needs help, understanding, and support in adjusting to the effects of the stroke.


Common in people who have had strokes, depression can begin soon after the stroke or many weeks later, and family members often notice it first. It’s normal for a stroke survivor to feel sad over the problems caused by stroke. However, some people experience a major depressive disorder, which should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Recovering After a Stroke, AHCPR Publication No. 95-0664, prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research.

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