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Top 10 Ways Stroke Recovery is Different for Young Adults

Posted by Staci Blinn Jan 26 2017

It is a common misconception that stroke only affects the elderly. However, approximately one-third of all strokes occur in people between the ages of 18 and 65. Young stroke survivors face a unique set of challenges as they begin their recovery journey after a stroke. Here are the top 10 ways that recovery is different for young adult stroke survivors.

1. Career—Having a stroke at a young age can cause a severe disruption in employment. Most young people who have a stroke will need some amount time off from work, and some will be unable to return to work at all. Those who do return often find that they can no longer work in the same capacity as before— fatigue, memory problems, and concentration issues hinder performance and cause a great deal of frustration.

2. Finances—When a stroke occurs decades before the age of retirement, most people don’t have the savings to sufficiently support themselves and their families during a time of crisis. Not only does the survivor need time off from work, their spouse may also need to take a leave of absence to provide the necessary care. While Social Security Disability Insurance is an option for some, it can take months to be approved. In the meantime, young survivors face the fear of bankruptcy and ballooning debt.

3. Young people are unaware of the risk of stroke. They typically hold a belief that they are too young to have a stroke, even if they have risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure. Strokes among young people, however, are on the rise—15% of ischemic strokes occur in young people and adolescents.  

4. Misdiagnosis—One alarming fact about stroke in young adults is that it is sometimes misdiagnosed or not recognized as a stroke by family, friends, and medical providers due to the belief that stroke only happens to the elderly. Unfortunately, this can cause delays in treatment for hours or even days. This is a major concern when considering that tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the lifesaving clot buster, is most effective if given within three  hours of stroke onset. Missing this window can have devastating effects on the recovery prognosis.

5. Hidden symptoms—In young people, the lasting effects of a stroke can hide below the surface where they are felt but not seen. Survivors may experience effects that include post-stroke fatigue, emotional outbursts, and an inability to focus. There is a disconnect between how they look and how they feel. Educating employers, co-workers, friends, and family about the hidden effects of a stroke can help the survivor feel more understood.

6. Life expectancy—Young stroke survivors have a long life ahead of them, and this means that a large portion of their life will be spent dealing with the effects of their stroke. Financial and caregiving arrangements may need to be made for many years or decades.

7. Faster recovery—Young people tend to recover faster and more completely than older adults. A young person’s brain has more plasticity and more easily “rewires” than an elderly person’s brain. They may also be in better physical shape than an older person and are therefore more able to complete physical therapy tasks.

8. Insurance—Typically, adults do not qualify for Medicare until they are 65, and some young stroke survivors are either uninsured to begin with or lose their insurance when they can no longer work after a stroke. While individuals can qualify for Medicare before the age of 65 if they are approved for SSDI, and they may qualify for Medicaid if they can no longer work, insurance issues can be very stressful for young survivors.

9. Family—Family looks different for a young survivor than an older person. A young survivor may have children whom they are raising, or, they may be thinking about plans to start a family. Parenting is stressful, and the effects of stroke can greatly increase this stress. It is also a very difficult time for the loved ones of the survivor who now have added responsibilities and changing roles.

10. Lower co-morbidity—Young stroke survivors typically have fewer co-morbidities—health problems occurring at the same time as other health problems—than older people. This means that there are less health conditions such as diabetes, dementia, and heart disease that can complicate the recovery process. This can lead to better outcomes in younger survivors.

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