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Basal Ganglia Stroke: Understanding the Effects & Recovery Process

caregiver with basal ganglia stroke survivor

Basal ganglia stroke is a rare type of stroke that can lead to unique long-term effects, like emotional blunting or loss of spontaneous speech.

You’re about to learn the other potential long-term effects of a stroke in the basal ganglia. Fortunately it’s not all bad news, because you’ll also learn how recovery is possible, and what steps you can take to improve outcomes.

Table of Contents

How a Stroke Affects the Basal Ganglia

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). There are many areas of the brain that can be affected by stroke, including 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. Fortunately, you can recover from a basal ganglia stroke by helping the brain rewire itself via neuroplasticity.

Can You Recover from a Basal Ganglia Stroke?

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, create new pathways, and rearrange existing ones as a result of experience.

This means that the functions lost after a stroke can be restored, at least partially, if not fully. The brain can create new pathways in healthy areas of the brain to control the abilities lost after stroke.

For example, if a basal ganglia stroke patient lost her ability to control her arm, neuroplasticity allows new areas of the brain to take on arm function. It doesn’t happen on its own, though. Neuroplasticity requires hard work through experience to occur.

Fortunately, this is what rehabilitation is for. During the stroke recovery process, stroke patients are exposed to intense, therapeutic experiences designed to encourage the brain to rewire itself and regain lost functions.

Before we dig further into the rehabilitation process, let’s look at the various effects that can occur after a stroke in the basal ganglia. Then, we’ll provide steps for recovery.

Secondary Effects of Basal Ganglia Stroke

It’s important to know that every stroke is different, so everyone will experience different secondary effects.

The following effects are not guaranteed to occur after a stroke, and may not occur at all. Instead, this list provides a general overview of the potential aftermath of a basal ganglia stroke.

Here are the most common long-term effects:

1. Motor Impairments

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

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2. Changes in Sensation

Some people with basal ganglia stroke may experience numbness or difficulty feeling on the body parts affected by stroke.

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 secondary 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 effect?

To understand this phenomenon, try putting yourself in the shoes of a 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 secondary 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 to. 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 stroke effects will vary from patient to patient.

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.

Methods for Basal Ganglia Stroke Recovery

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

Most stroke recovery treatments focus on activating neuroplasticity to encourage the brain to rewire itself. Neuroplasticity is activated by experience, especially the when the experience is repetitive and consistent.

With that said, here are some of the best therapies for basal ganglia stroke recovery:

  • Physical therapy. This helps restore movement in the body by practicing various stroke exercises that target the affected muscles. 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. This is typically done within physical therapy.
  • Occupational therapy. This will help you to regain independence in activities of daily living, such as dressing and using the bathroom. OT can also assist with arm strengthening and improving arm coordination.
  • Sensory retraining therapy. This helps restore sensation in the body by practicing various sensory retraining 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 or depression. 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 recommended 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.

Remember that 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.

The Road to Recovery

Like most types of stroke, basal ganglia stroke is possible to recover from, especially when a consistent rehabilitation plan is followed.

By exposing the brain to repetitive stimulus, you can help spark neuroplasticity to rewire the brain and regain lost functions.

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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