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Understanding a Frontal Lobe Stroke: Causes, Side Effects, and Recovery

medical illustration of brain with frontal lobe highlighted at the front

The frontal lobe is the largest part of the brain. It handles higher cognitive functions, including language, memory, problem solving, and judgment. The frontal lobe also plays a big role in our emotional expression, personalities, and movement. Therefore, recovery from a frontal lobe stroke can be particularly difficult if you don’t know where to start.

You’re about to learn what to expect from a frontal lobe stroke and how to promote a successful recovery.

Understanding the Frontal Lobe’s Function

The frontal lobe is comprised of two paired lobes known as the left and right frontal cortex. Together, these lobes comprise almost two-thirds of the brain and help control many functions.

Here are the functions that the frontal lobe is known to control:

  • Speech and language. The left half of the frontal lobe helps form thoughts into verbal language. Other parts of the frontal lobe also help with language skills.
  • Motor skills. The frontal lobe is home to the primary motor cortex, a region that controls muscle movement. It’s what allows you to walk, run, and perform any other physical movement you can think of.
  • Executive functioning. The frontal lobe plays a critical role in a person’s ability to plan, make decisions, manage their needs, and juggle multiple tasks at once. It also plays a big role in attention and concentration.
  • Empathy and social skills. The frontal lobe helps us empathize and understand the feelings of others.

A frontal lobe stroke can affect any these abilities. It can be helpful to ask the neurologist about which hemisphere of the brain was affected by the frontal lobe stroke, as that can have implications for recovery.

Causes of Stroke in the Frontal Lobe

There are two types of stroke that can affect the frontal lobe (and all other areas of the brain).

First, an ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot becomes clogged in an artery in the brain, depriving this part of the brain of oxygen. Second, in more rare cases, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain bursts, causing bleeding in the brain.

Because the frontal lobe accounts for a large portion of the brain, the chances of a frontal lobe stroke are higher than subcortical strokes that occur deep within the brain.

Furthermore, the frontal lobe is divided into two hemispheres where each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body. As a result, motor impairments usually occur on the side of the body opposite to the stroke.

In other words, a right frontal lobe stroke may impair movement on the left side of the body; and a left frontal lobe stroke may impair the right side.

Motor impairments aren’t the only side effect of a frontal lobe stroke, though.

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Side Effects of Frontal Lobe Stroke

The frontal lobe controls a wide array of functions. When it becomes damaged by the impact of a stroke, any of these functions can be disrupted.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of frontal lobe stroke:

  • Hemiparesis or hemiplegia. This involves weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, usually the opposite side of the stroke. The frontal lobe controls voluntary movement. Therefore, motor issues after a frontal lobe stroke are common.
  • Speech difficulties. This is particularly common after left frontal lobe strokes, as the left hemisphere is usually the language center of the brain. Every brain is wired a bit differently though, and no brain function is controlled solely in one hemisphere alone.
  • Dysphagia. Issues with swallowing (a condition known as dysphagia) can occur after a frontal lobe stroke. With severe strokes, some patients may require a feeding tube.
  • Ataxia. Difficulty with coordinated movement (a condition known as ataxia) can occur when the frontal lobe’s control of voluntary movement is compromised. Ataxia can affect movement of the limbs, eye movements, and even speech and swallowing.
  • Incontinence. When a frontal lobe patient loses the ability to control their bladder or bowels (which are controlled by muscles), they may suffer from incontinence.
  • Impaired spatial reasoning. Because the frontal lobe controls our spatial awareness, a frontal lobe stroke may affect a patient’s ability to pinpoint the location of things they see, feel, or hear, and may cause difficulties with navigating the environment.
  • Vascular dementia. This refers to a loss of several important cognitive skills including impulsive control, memory, and attention. It can also be associated with strange behaviors. Vascular dementia is sometimes caused by a stroke, but can develop from other causes as well.
  • Behavior changes. Not all side effects are as extreme as dementia. Some frontal lobe patients experience smaller shifts in behavior, like irritability or impulsiveness.
  • Personality changes. When a stroke affects a person’s thoughts, actions, and beliefs, it can result in personality changes.
  • Cognitive deficits. The frontal lobe play a strong role in executive functioning. A stroke in this area of the brain may impair a patient’s ability to think critically, make decisions, and manage their needs.

As you can see, there are many possible side effects of a frontal lobe stroke, because the frontal lobe controls many different functions.

Every stroke is different, and every brain is wired a bit differently. Therefore, every frontal lobe stroke patient will sustain different side effects.

The good news is that the brain can heal itself after a frontal lobe stroke, and some, if not all, side effects can be minimized with intensive therapies and hard work.

How to Heal the Brain After Frontal Lobe Stroke

While the effects of frontal lobe stroke can be damaging, they are not necessarily permanent. In fact, the brain can reassign functions to healthy portions of the brain to help “pick up the slack.”

This process is known as neuroplasticity, and it allows patients to recover, at least partially, from the side effects of stroke. Through massed repetition, you can activate neuroplasticity and retrain your brain to recover abilities lost after a stroke.

To understand how neuroplasticity works, think of it as paving new roads. The more you practice something, the stronger those roads become. Repetition is how all skills are originally learned — and it’s how skills are re-learned during rehabilitation.

Repetition stimulates the brain and encourages new “neural tracks” to be formed. The more you practice a skill, the stronger these neural pathways become, and the more your function improves.

Therefore, even if you’ve suffered damage to the frontal lobe, you may still be able to regain function through rehabilitation.

How the Stroke Rehabilitation Process Works

To regain function after stroke, you will need to take part in rigorous therapy and rehabilitation.

Here are a few types of therapies that can promote a successful recovery from frontal lobe stroke:

  • Speech therapy exercises. If your frontal lobe stroke caused aphasia (difficulty speaking and/or understanding language) or dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), begin speech therapy exercises right away. A speech therapist can teach you how to retrain your brain and regain language skills, and can help your swallowing improve as well.
  • Physical therapy exercises. To recover muscle strength and coordination, make sure you participate in PT. Daily stroke exercises are key to recovery. By exercising the affected parts of your body, you will stimulate your brain and rekindle the neural networks that help you move.
  • Occupational therapy. After a stroke, it may be difficult to perform self-care activities, also known as “Activities of Daily Living.” Working with an occupational therapist will help you to regain some of these functional skills so that you can return to being more independent. OT’s can also help you with skills needed for doing things around your home, returning to work or school, and potentially driving.
  • Cognitive training exercises. This training, which is often guided by a speech therapist, can help improve memory, attention, problem-solving, and learning skills. You can do this through intensive repetition of cognitive exercises for stroke recovery.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT helps people develop positive strategies to avoid harmful actions. It can be especially helpful for stroke victims who struggle with impulsivity.
  • Positive psychology. Positive psychology can help retrain the brain to experience more positive emotions. To learn more about this, check out our book Healing & Happiness After Stroke.

These are a few therapies and treatments that can help you recover from a frontal lobe stroke. Talk to your therapists for more recommendations.

Frontal Lobe Stroke: Key Points

Because the frontal lobe is the biggest part of the brain, it plays a role in many different functions. Therefore, a stroke in the frontal lobe can create a wide variety of side effects.

Fortunately, thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, recovery is possible. By participating in various forms of therapy, you can help rewire the brain and retrain the functions that may have been lost.

The key is to find a therapy that fits your needs and to keep practicing it until you regain your abilities.

We hope this article helped you better understand frontal lobe stroke and how to recover. Best of luck on the road to recovery.

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