Personality changes after stroke can result from changes in thought, emotion, or behavior after the incident.
Sometimes these changes are positive, other times it can lead to difficult shifts in personality dynamics.
The key to navigating personality changes after stroke is by understanding the different causes and corresponding coping mechanisms.
Let’s get straight to it.
Types of Personality Changes After Stroke
Here are the most common causes of personality changes after stroke, along with resources to cope:
1. Cognitive Changes
Personality changes can occur when stroke affects the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory, thinking, and reasoning.
Humans are motivated by thought. When cognitive changes spark different thought patterns, the survivor’s personality can change.
If you suspect that cognitive challenges have changed your loved one’s personality, then perhaps cognitive rehabilitation can help.
Skills like memory, attention, and problem solving can improve through cognitive rehabilitation exercises.
You should not make your loved one feel like they must “get back to their old self.” However, most patients want to recover, and cognitive exercises may help.
Both speech therapists and occupational therapists may be able address cognitive deficits during their treatments through exercises/activities and education in compensatory strategies.
2. Physiological Changes
Sometimes stroke affects the emotion center of the brain and creates a side effect called pseudobulbar affect.
This stroke side effect is characterized by uncontrollable outbursts of laughter or crying, which may affect the survivor’s personality.
Treatment often includes medication. Sometimes the condition goes away on its own (spontaneous recovery).
3. Psychological Changes
Stroke recovery can also affect personality due to the radical lifestyle changes sprung upon the survivor.
When physical limitations are suddenly thrust upon someone, it’s understandable to see personality changes. For individuals who sustain a severe stroke that were previously very active, this may be especially true. If physical recovery is limited, many may go through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) before they return to their pre-stroke temperament.
Fortunately, psychotherapy is a great way to deal with the difficult transitions after stroke.
You can also find more coping mechanisms in the book Healing & Happiness After Stroke, which focuses on the emotional side of recovery.
4. Behavior Changes
Sometimes the cognitive impact of stroke can create inappropriate or irrational behavior. Mood swings after stroke may also occur.
If you recognize these changes in your loved one, you may want to consult with a psychiatrist. They can help address both physiological and psychological causes of the personality changes.
Stroke survivors suffering from physiological changes may respond better to medication, while psychological changes may respond better to talk therapy.
5. Vascular Dementia
A post-stroke condition called vascular dementia can also play a role in personality changes after stroke.
This form of dementia can develop after the brain has sustained damage from the stroke. It can cause symptoms like difficulty with reasoning, confusion, reduced attention span, among other symptoms.
Typical treatment for vascular dementia includes medication and/or dietary changes. Also, cognitive rehabilitation exercises are thought to help.
6. Communication Challenges
Having a stroke may impact an individual’s ability to communicate. Being unable to express thoughts, needs, and emotions verbally can be very frustrating and may result in a change in personality.
Some individuals become withdrawn, while others may be more easily irritated due to these challenges.
Working with a speech therapist to increase verbal communication skills and possibly learn alternative non-verbal methods of communication can help stroke survivors feel heard again and get back to being his or her self.
Brain Anatomy of Personality Changes After Stroke
Knowing the location of your loved one’s stroke can also help you identify personality changes.
According to Jon Stone, a consultant neurologist, personality changes can be associated with damage in specific areas of the brain; particularly the cerebellum and frontal lobes.
Jon states that a stroke in the cerebellum can trigger a personality shift because this section of the brain controls many executive functions.
Personality changes can also occur if there is damage to the frontal lobes, which play an essential role in regulating emotion, decision making, and judgment.
Tips for Coping with Personality Changes After Stroke
Personality changes after stroke may or may not be permanent. Seeking different forms of therapy can help you explore the potential for getting back to your ‘old self.’
Here are a few tips to help cope with personality changes after stroke:
- Join a stroke support group. See if there are local support groups in your area, or consider joining one online (like our Facebook group).
- Start psychotherapy. A skilled therapist can be a great asset in assessing and possibly overcoming personality changes after stroke.
- Talk with your doctor. If chemical changes in the brain are the cause of undesirable personality changes, then medication may help.
- Exercise empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your loved one and consider how the impact of stroke may affect you, too.
- Encourage acceptance. Most stroke survivors want to get back as much of their “old selves” as possible. Be sure not to make them feel pressured to get there, but instead, foster a supportive, caring environment.
- Give it time. Sometimes stroke survivors experience “spontaneous recovery,” which means their conditions improve on their own. There is always hope for recovery.
- Journaling. Keeping track of your feelings, progress, and accomplishments through journaling can help you process your emotions and improve your outlook.
Personality Changes After Stroke: A Summary
When personality changes occur after stroke, it could be the result of physiological or psychological changes.
It’s up to you and your medical team to assess the possible causes and experiment with different therapies to help.
Some great options involve talk therapy, cognitive rehabilitation exercise, and just giving things time. Try experimenting with different options to see what works best for you.
We hope this article has helped provide clarity for you on the road to recovery.