Family members of stroke survivors suffer in silence

By June Shannon Stroke News   |   23rd May 2018

One in four family members reported depressive symptoms- new Irish study

23 May 2018

By June Shannon

Cognitive impairment such as memory loss, poor attention and behavioural changes are common post stroke and can have a significant impact on family members of stroke survivors, a new Irish study has revealed.

The study, which was carried out by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) in Dublin and presented at the European Stroke Organisation Conference (ESOC) in Gothenburg last week, found that family members of stroke patients with cognitive impairment were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Part funded by the Irish Heart Foundation, the study used data from the five-year follow-up of the Action on Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Interventions in Stroke (ASPIRE-S) cohort of stroke patients. Family members completed a self-reported questionnaire and symptoms of anxiety and depression among family members and cognitive impairment in stroke survivors were assessed.

Family members included spouses or partners and adult children or siblings of stroke survivors.

Cognitive impairment such as memory loss, poor attention and behavioural changes are common post stroke and can have a significant impact on family members

.

According to the results, one in four or 25.5 per cent of family members reported depressive symptoms and almost one in five or 19.7 per cent reported symptoms of anxiety.

Almost a third or 29 per cent of stroke survivors were identified as having evidence of cognitive impairment and family members of stroke patients with cognitive difficulties were “significantly more likely to report depressive or anxious symptoms.”

According to the lead author of the study Daniella Rohde (HRB SPHeRE PHD student at the Division of Population Health Sciences, RCSI), while many people are aware of the physical side effects of stroke there is a lack of awareness of cognitive impairment and both stroke survivors and their families needed more help and support with these challenges.

She said it was important for family members to “be aware that patients can experience cognitive impairment post stroke and that can be difficult for carers and family members to deal with…….it is to be aware of that and not to be afraid to ask for help if needed.”

“What caregivers find most difficult often would be the behavioural changes, the person may be a bit more disinhibited, may be more volatile and they may be the most distressing,"

Professor Anne Hickey, Head of Division of Population Health Sciences, , RCSI

Professor Anne Hickey, Head of Division of Population Health Sciences, RCSI explained that some of the more common types of cognitive impairment experienced by stroke survivors included problems with memory, attention and concentration as well as behavioural changes. She added that for some family members behavioural changes can be the most distressing aspect of cognitive impairment.

“What caregivers find most difficult often would be the behavioural changes, the person may be a bit more disinhibited, may be more volatile and they may be the most distressing,” Prof Hickey explained.

Prof Hickey added that people needed to understand that cognitive impairment was a common consequence of stroke and there was also a need for more information and support on this issue for patients and for care givers and family members.

The ESOC 2018 took place in Gothenburg in Sweden from 16 to 18 May 2018.

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