Stroke and memory loss are closely connected, as strokes can damage the brain and brain damage causes memory loss. Stroke survivors commonly report at least some memory loss in association with their strokes. The good news is that this is often reversible through rehabilitation and therapy, although not always. After a patient has had a stroke, a rehabilitation specialist should visit the patient in the hospital to perform an assessment and make an accurate estimate of the patient's ability to recover.
When people experience strokes, part of the brain is injured due to hemorrhage, increased pressure, or lack of blood supply. The brain is a very flexible organ and can often adapt, with time, to injuries, depending on the location of the damage. When strokes involve the areas of the brain where memories are formed and stored, patients can develop memory loss. Some may experience a rewiring of their brains after the event, allowing them to recover their cognitive abilities, while others may have permanent memory problems.
Stroke and memory loss can take a number of forms. Some patients have trouble forming new memories. Although they are able to recall events before the stroke, they are unable to acquire new information. Other patients may have short term memory loss; they can remember events 30 years in the past with clarity, but have trouble with the last day. Stroke and memory loss can also involve the development of delusions, caused by the brain's attempt to adapt to the damage, and this may lead to the creation of false memories. The patient can think that these events really happened and may experience distress when corrected.
A phenomenon known as vascular dementia is closely connected to stroke and memory loss. Patients with this condition experience an overall decline in cognitive abilities as a result of brain damage. It is often compared to Alzheimer's disease in terms of how it affects cognition. These patients will be less able to perform basic cognitive tasks and can experience mood changes in association with their altered brains.
As soon as memory loss is identified after a stroke, rehabilitation can be used to help patients recover memories and develop techniques for compensating if they have trouble forming new memories. The connection between stroke and memory loss is well known, and patients are usually evaluated many times in the hospital during stroke treatment and recovery for signs of cognitive impairment like memory problems. People around a stroke patient can help by making sure the patient knows who they are and providing patients with information about their shared past, as in “I'm Ted, your neighbor, I'm looking after your horses while you're in the hospital.” Some stroke patients also benefit from playing memory games to sharpen memory skills.