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The Long-Term Effects of Basal Ganglia Stroke & How to Recover

caregiver with basal ganglia stroke survivor

Basal ganglia stroke is a rare type of stroke that can lead to unique long-term effects.

You’re about to learn what side effects may occur after basal ganglia stroke and how to recover.

Understanding Basal Ganglia Stroke

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood in the brain becomes compromised by either a clogged artery (ischemic stroke) or burst artery (hemorrhagic stroke). It can occur in any area of the brain, including the basal ganglia.

During a stroke, brain cells do not receive adequate blood supply, and they begin to die. This disruption causes certain side effects from the brain damage. Fortunately, the long-term side effects can be recovered partially, and in the best cases, fully.

Before we dig into the process, it helps to know what bodily functions the basal ganglia controls.

Functions of the Basal Ganglia

The basal ganglia are a group of structures that lie deep within the brain. They are strongly connected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and brain stem.

The basal ganglia are most associated with these functions:

When the basal ganglia becomes damaged after stroke, it can impair any of these functions. If the stroke is successfully treated, the survivor begins rehabilitation to restore any side effects sustained.

Long Term Effects of Basal Ganglia Stroke

It’s important to know that every stroke is different, so everyone will experience different side effects and recovery. Fortunately, clinical studies are helping us understand the side effects of basal ganglia stroke.

Here are the most common long-term effects of basal ganglia stroke:

1. Motor Impairments

One of the primary functions of the basal ganglia is to control voluntary muscle control. When this control is compromised, it can lead to difficulty making coordinated body movements.

Therefore, motor impairments are one of the most common long-term effects of basal ganglia stroke.

There are many types of motor impairments that can occur, like dystonia and chorea. If the stroke was severe, basal ganglia stroke can even result in post-stroke paralysis.

Your physical therapist will be able to diagnose your condition, if you have any.

2. Changes in Sensation

Some people with basal ganglia stroke may experience numbness or difficulty feeling.

Without the ability to feel sensations throughout the body, it can make motor impairments even more difficult. The brain needs sensory input in order to make coordinated movements.

One possible explanation for sensory issues after a basal ganglia stroke is its proximity to the thalamus.

The thalamus plays a large role in relaying sensory signals. In fact, numbness after stroke is one of the most common side effects of a thalamic stroke.

3. Emotional Blunting

man showing emotional changes after basal ganglia stroke

©iStock.com/Gonzophoto

One study found that disorders of the basal ganglia can alter your perception and experience of emotion. Specifically, basal ganglia stroke is associated with emotional blunting.

Emotional blunting means that positive stimulus is perceived less positively, and negative stimulus is perceived less negatively. This creates a flattened, “blunted” effect on emotion.

4. Post-Stroke Depression

While life after stroke may feel distressing sometimes, it could be perceived less negatively by a basal ganglia stroke survivor due to emotional blunting. If that’s the case, why is post-stroke depression a common long-term side effect?

To understand this phenomenon, try putting yourself in the shoes of a basal ganglia stroke survivor. If everything suddenly felt flat – and you experienced less sadness and also less happiness – wouldn’t that affect you?

Every stroke is different, so everyone experiences different side effects. While not every basal ganglia stroke survivor experiences depression, it’s a common long-term effect.

5. Loss of Spontaneous Speech

In one study, a basal ganglia stroke survivor was reported to have slow verbal response time. He did not speak unless spoken too. However, when he did talk, his responses were fluent and appropriate.

This indicates that a stroke in the basal ganglia may impair speech functions, particularly with voluntary speech. However, all strokes are different, so basal ganglia side effects will vary from patient to patient. This was just one patient, so keep that in mind.

Most speech difficulties after stroke are categorized under a condition called aphasia. There are many different types of aphasia, and a speech-language pathologist can help diagnose your condition.

Basal Ganglia Stroke Recovery

illustration of brain rewiring itself after basal ganglia stroke long term effects

©iStock.com/metamorworks

After a stroke damages the basal ganglia, resulting in some or all of these long-term side effects, there is hope for recovery.

The brain has an innate ability to rewire itself through neuroplasticity. When one area becomes damaged, different areas of the brain can take over lost or impaired functions.

Most stroke recovery treatments focus on activating neuroplasticity to encourage the brain to rewire itself. The best way to activate neuroplasticity is with repetitive stimulus.

Whatever you repeatedly practice is what your brain will adapt to and get better at.

Rehabilitating the Effects of Basal Ganglia Stroke

Recovery from basal ganglia stroke utilizes various therapies to help the brain rewire itself and recover function.

Here are some of the best therapies for basal ganglia stroke:

  • Physical therapy. This helps restore movement in the body by practicing various stroke exercises that target the affected muscles groups. Ideally, patients should engage in daily physical therapy to provide the brain with enough stimulation for recovery.
  • Gait training. This helps restore the ability to walk. Gait rehabilitation focuses on exercises to strengthen and retrain the legs, feet, and core to improve balance.
  • Sensory reeducation therapy. This helps restore sensation in the body by practicing various sensory reeducation exercises. It aims to reteach the brain how to interpret your senses again, including your sense of touch.
  • Speech therapy. This helps restore speech by practicing various speech therapy exercises. Working with a Speech-Language Pathologist is ideal. These experts can diagnose different types of language disorders and cater a regimen that meets your needs.
  • Psychotherapy. This can help survivors cope with emotional changes, like emotional blunting. It could take a series of sessions to experience changes.
  • Positive psychology. This modality can help promote better emotional “resting states” by focusing on the positive. For example, it’s recommend to write in a gratitude journal every day to train the brain to rest in a more grateful state. The book Healing & Happiness After Stroke dives deeper into positive psychology for stroke recovery.

As you can see, repetition is key to recovery. Provide the brain with repetitive stimulation that targets the area you want to improve. This aids the rewiring process to recover function.

Next, you might be wondering how long recovery might take.

Timeline for Basal Ganglia Stroke Recovery

With all types of stroke, recovery is highly individualized because every stroke is different. How long it takes to recover from stroke varies from person to person.

However, there is a well-accepted phenomenon that shows recovery happening the fastest within the first 3 months. That’s because the brain is in a heightened state of plasticity, and neuroplasticity occurs rapidly.

After the 3 month post-stroke plateau, recovery slows down but it does not have to stop. As long as you keep providing the brain with stimulation, you can continue to recover function.

While a full recovery from stroke is only a possibility for some, we believe that everyone should strive for one. Believing that it’s possible will get you much farther than believing otherwise.

Miracles happen every day, and you can be one of them if you take action. The work you do every day will determine how far you can take your recovery from basal ganglia stroke.

The Road to Recovery

The goal of basal ganglia stroke recovery is to restore the long-term side effects, like motor impairments or numbness.

Physical therapy helps restore movement and improve movement disorders that may have occurred. If other side effects were sustained, different therapies can help aid recovery.

Repetition is key. Even if recovery has slowed down, the brain will respond to repetitive stimulation. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Good luck!

Featured image: ©iStock.com/Halfpoint

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