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May 27, 2009 > Life After Stroke: The Ball is in Your Court

Life After Stroke: The Ball is in Your Court

Learning to Move Forward in the Wake of Stroke

There's no way around it. Having a stroke irrevocably alters life as you know it.
Looking toward the future, it is up to the patient to put forth the effort that could make a considerable difference in the recovery process, according to Washington Hospital's Stroke Program Coordinator Doug Van Houten, R.N.
On Monday, June 1, from 12 to 2 p.m., during Washington Hospital's free Stroke Education Series, Van Houten will discuss life after stroke. The talk will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

"At this stage, life has dealt you a stroke, and the ball's in your court now," Van Houten says. "You have to try to respond in a way that will improve your outcome and reduce the possibility of death, which is significant after a stroke. The truth is that your chance of dying one year after a stroke is about 25 percent. Fifty percent of stroke patients will be dead within five years. But this is where you can make a difference in the outcome. You have to take steps such as adding aspirin to your daily routine, exercising regularly, taking prescribed medications and quitting smoking.

"During this talk, I'm also trying to give people a feel for what it's like after stroke. I want stroke survivors to receive acknowledgement for what they're going through and also to know that there's a lot of things we can do for you. In almost all cases, I say it's better to be optimistic and work hard. If you want to err on one side, err on the side of positive thinking following a stroke."

Van Houten says life after stroke presents survivors with a number of challenges. To overcome these obstacles, stroke survivors must use motivation, knowledge and creativity to help them regain as much function and independence as possible.
As a means of inspiration for stroke survivors, Van Houten says he likes to use the example of Tuesdays with Morrie, a bestselling biographical account of Morrie Schwartz and his battle with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"I always like to go back to Morrie Schwartz," he says. "The question stroke survivors have to ask themselves is 'Do I wither up and disappear or do I make the most of what I have?' You have to take control and make your life as good as you can. If it's a lot of improvement, great; if it's a little, that's still good."
"I will talk about insights into life after stroke. I want people to understand some of the things that they can expect, including the feelings following a major life change like this. It all feeds into why I want them to come to the Stroke Support Group and learn from each other."

There are eight main messages that Van Houten will cover during his talk:
1. Life is different but not worse.
2. The goal is to move forward. (That was then, this is now.)
3. Be flexible, creative and optimistic because 80 percent of survivors return home.
4. Learn how to increase independence.
5. Improve cognitive and physical function.
6. Find creative ways to improve communication
7. Maintain safety in the case of numbness, visual field impairment and/or weakness on one side.
8. Prevent another stroke. (The No. 1 risk factor is having had a stroke.)
During this phase of the Stroke Education Series, Van Houten says he also likes to focus on the caregivers whose hard work is sometimes the only thing that allows survivors to go home rather than a nursing facility following a stroke.

"Being a caregiver isn't something you choose; it seems to choose you," Van Houten points out. "Caregivers are most often spouses, and it's one more way of becoming the most important person in your spouse's life. Typically, family members serving as caregivers are poorly trained, feel overwhelmed and spend a lot of time learning as they go. It's important to remember that these caregivers need assistance from sources such as home health nurses, stroke support group and social workers.

"It takes a lot of adjustments. So often roles change. Maybe the wife never drove before or never did the bills or never took the car for repairs. If it's the wife who had a stroke, maybe the husband never paid the bills or maybe he never cooked a meal. The marriage role changes from equal partner to caregiver and care receiver. You need to invest in self-care if you're going to go the distance. There are health issues for caregivers, and they need respite, too."

Van Houten says it's worthwhile for people to learn as much about stroke at every stage.

"You think life in retirement should be fun and easy, and then all of a sudden something like this happens," he says. "The reality of the matter is that there are a lot of people living with stroke - 2.6 percent of all men and 2.5 of all women over 18 have had a stroke. That's between 5 and 6 million."

To learn more about life after stroke, as well as the future of diagnosis and management, join Van Houten and members of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program on Monday, June 1, from 12 to 2 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, call (800) 963-7070.

To find out more about Washington Hospital's Stroke Support Group, call (510) 745-6525 or visit, click "The Community," choose "Community Seminars and Health Classes" from the drop-down menu and choose "Support Groups."

Community Stroke Education Series Changing Day and Time

Beginning in July, the Community Stroke Education Series will be held on the first Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m.
The next Stroke Education session will be held:
Tuesday, July 7
6 to 7 p.m. - Introduction-STROKE
7 to 8 p.m. - Risk Factors for Stroke

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