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Social Support Key to Good Mental Health After Stroke: Study

MONDAY, Jan. 14, 2019 -- Two-thirds of stroke survivors who live at home have good mental health, and social support plays an important role, researchers say.

The new study included 300 stroke survivors, aged 50 and older, in Canada. Survivors living in long-term care facilities, who tend to have the most serious disabilities, were not included.

Stroke survivors were said to be in good mental health if they "were happy and/or satisfied with their life on an almost daily basis and … were free of suicidal thoughts, substance dependence, depression and anxiety disorder for the past year," said study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson. She's director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.

Stroke survivors who had at least one confidant were four times more likely to achieve good mental health after stroke than those who were socially isolated, the investigators found.

According to study co-author Lisa Jensen, "This suggests targeted interventions for socially isolated and lonely patients may be particularly helpful in optimizing well-being after a stroke." Jensen recently graduated with a master's degree in social work.

On the flip side, stroke survivors with chronic and disabling pain had much lower odds of complete mental health, she added. And other research has suggested that post-stroke pain is often underdiagnosed and undertreated.

"These findings highlight the importance of health professionals vigilantly assessing and treating stroke survivors for chronic pain," Jensen said in a university news release.

Another key finding: Patients with a history of abuse in childhood or lifelong mental illness were less likely to achieve good mental health after a stroke, Fuller-Thomson said.

"It appears that childhood adversities cast a very long shadow over many, many decades. In this sample of Canadians aged 50 and older, stroke survivors who had a history of childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse or chronic parental domestic violence were only half as likely to be in complete mental health in comparison to those without these childhood traumas," Fuller-Thomson explained.

"We hope that these findings of incredible resiliency in stroke survivors are encouraging to stroke patients, their families and the health profession," Fuller-Thomson said. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

The study was published online Jan. 9 in the Journal of Aging and Health.

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Posted: January 2019

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