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Surviving a stroke and recovery from a stroke are two separate issues. Stroke survivors are usually faced with a certain amount of adjustment and rehabilitation. Depression is a common struggle for the stroke patient and for his for her care-giver. In fact, one-third of stroke survivors deal with depression. It is a serious problem because depression can trigger another stroke.

Health professionals are aware of the risk for depression and so they often treat stroke patients with anti-depressants during the first few months following hospital discharge.  Anxiety, agitation, weepiness, apathy and irritability are also often present, but depression is the number one mental health problem faced by those recovering from a stroke or those who care for the stroke survivor. Studies have been done on depression prevalence among stroke survivors and among their caregivers, but a recent study took the unique approach of investigating the problem while treating the two parties as a unit.

Rehabilitation demands a great amount of interdependency and the new study reflects that fact.  For the study, researchers followed 112 stroke survivors with evidence of depression for two months following their discharge from the hospital. The research examined patient and spouse as a pair rather than as individuals to see how each affected the other’s risk for depression.

The study participants came from four different Indianapolis hospitals. Stroke survivors were 66 percent male and around 62 years of age. Spouses and/or caregivers were 66 percent female and the average age was 60 years.

The researchers used four questionnaires to measure perceived control, optimism, self-esteem and depression. Those tools were the Sense of Control Scale, the Revised Life Orientation Test, the Patient’s Health Questionnaire and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The research revealed that optimism and self-esteem were major factors in depression for both the stroke survivor and the care-giving spouse. Of particular note was the fact that when the care-giving spouse feels upbeat and good about themselves, it can lower the risk of depression in the stroke survivor.

The use of anti-depressants among stroke survivors is perhaps warranted given the fact that such a high number of patients struggle with depression. However, in addition to the mood regulation that anti-depressants provide, the medications also seem to help improve cognitive ability. Some studies claim that the anti-depressants even aid with movement recovery.

Stroke survivors may not immediately feel depressed. Some patients report feeling depressed only occasionally. However, research seems to point toward the positive benefits of even a short term treatment initially. Making sure that the caregiver also feels strong, positive and hopeful is just as important to both party’s prognosis.

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