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Managing Depression After Your Loved One’s Stroke

Stroke survivors often face a challenging rehabilitation process geared to help them regain a sense of normalcy. If the survivor also suffers from depression, an extra layer of support is needed to help the person manage their feelings and stay focused on stroke recovery.

With the proper treatment, your loved one can overcome depression and improve mental function to give them a better chance of moving forward from their stroke.

What is a stroke?

In simple terms, strokes occur when there is an interruption or reduction of blood flow to the brain. Strokes prevent brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function, causing them to start dying within minutes.

The symptoms of a mini-stroke can last up to 24 hours. However, the effects of a major stroke can alter a person’s life permanently. This can mean possible physical and emotional changes, including depression, in stroke survivors.

Why can a stroke cause depression?

According to a Harvard Medical School special health report, approximately 25% to 40% of people who’ve had a stroke develop depression. The report notes that depression tends to set in once the survivor first begins to understand and absorb the effects the stroke has had on them. Depression can also be triggered after rehabilitation services cease and the person’s recovery starts to plateau.

Biochemical changes to the brain as a result of the stroke can also trigger depression.

It can be dangerous to leave depression unchecked. Your loved one might start losing motivation to continue rehabilitation or stop having energy for activities they once enjoyed. They could become closed off, not interested in relationships, and suffer from impaired thinking and memory. Unchecked depression can also lead to cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and potentially another – and possibly more severe  stroke.   

We want our loved ones to enjoy life to the fullest, so it’s essential to seek help when the first signs of depression become evident.

What are the signs of depression?

When someone is recovering from a stroke, they may be facing significant physical challenges during recovery. It might be tempting to attribute changes in mood and behaviour to being part of the recovery process. However, depression is a separate condition that needs to be addressed and treated, so the stroke survivor has the best chance of recovery. 

Here are some of the more common signs of depression to watch out for:

  • Ongoing sadness, anxiety, or feelings of “emptiness”
  • A lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Thoughts of death or hurting oneself or suicide
  • Feelings of helplessness or uselessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obsessing over body image, including weight loss or gain
  • Problems falling or staying asleep or oversleeping
  • Unexplained restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism about the future

If your loved one has persistently suffered from five of these symptoms for at least two weeks, depression could be the cause. Therefore, it’s essential to seek medical help as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.

Is it depression or dementia?

Changes in mood, personality, and behaviour are also signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, there are two distinct differences between the two conditions:

Dementia: A chronic, progressive disease caused by brain disease or injury that presents itself through impaired memory, personality change, and decreased reasoning

Depression: A mental health disorder that affects behaviour, thinking, and disposition

In other words, depression is considered a mental health issue, while dementia, although it can affect overall mental well-being, is not.

Delirium, which can be caused by being put into new surroundings, dehydration, or the side effects of medication, also has symptoms that parallel depression and dementia. However, identifying the cause and taking appropriate action to treat delirium can reverse the signs.

Only a medical professional will tell with certainty why the person is feeling the way they are.

Encouraging an older adult to seek treatment

Sometimes, convincing an older adult to see the doctor can be tricky. Depression adds another layer of difficulty because the person might not even be aware of their symptoms and assume that the way they’re feeling is normal.

Acknowledging feelings of depression can also trigger feelings of shame, or lead the person to believe they can beat it by just “cheering up”. This mistaken belief can cause the depression to worsen and potentially affect the person’s ability to recover from their stroke.

If there is resistance to visiting the doctor, you can overcome it by:

  • Openly explaining what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned
  • Reassure them that depression is not a sign of weakness and can get better with treatment
  • Visiting a doctor to help diagnose and develop a treatment plan will help them feel better
  • Offer to set up the appointment and accompany them  
  • Help prepare a list of questions and concerns to discuss at the appointment

Keep in mind that if you feel your loved one is demonstrating suicidal thoughts or sections, call 911 for emergency medical assistance.

Providing support to a loved one with depression

Supporting a loved one through depression can help the person through treatment. They’ll appreciate your loving efforts to be there for them and feel reassured that they’re not alone in this.

Here are some ideas on what you can do to support an older stroke survivor diagnosed with depression:

  • Listen closely: Your loved one needs their feelings validated. Take the time to listen carefully without offering opinions or advice or being judgemental. Just hearing them out with empathy and understanding will help them heal.
  • Monitor their treatment: If their doctor treats them for depression, gently help the person remember to take any prescribed medications and attend medical appointments.
  • Spend time with them: Suggest going on a walk or sharing a fun activity or hobby with them. If they don’t want to, don’t force the issue but leave the invitation open.
  • Offer positive reinforcement: Sometimes, people with depression need to be reminded about their positive qualities and how important they are to others. Be sure to give positive reinforcement when they judge themselves too harshly.

It can also be helpful to seek outside professional assistance to provide support with stroke recovery and everyday tasks, such as cooking and housekeeping. You can also get help with casual companionship for your older loved one when you’re busy with family, career, and other tasks.

When you need extra support, CareHop is here. Our professional caregivers will ensure that your elder loved one is supported and cared for, renewing joy and sunshine into their lives. Our goal is to provide optimum care services that fulfill every one of your older adult’s needs.

If you have any questions about our customized personal care services, please reach out to us anytime.

About the Author

Amanda Lomat has been a Community Nurse for 5 years now, she is passionate about developing client relationships and helping them with the care they deserve at home.

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