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Behaviour, thinking and memory

Stroke can affect the functioning of your brain. If you had a stroke you may experience changes in your behavior and your ability to think and remember. Click on the horizontal tabs below to learn more.

Behaviour

Some stroke survivors may have little or no change in behaviour; others may go through major changes. These changes depend on:

  • Where the stroke was in the brain.
  • The severity of the stroke.
  • How long ago the stroke occurred.
  • The survivor’s personality, cognitive abilities, and behaviour before the stroke.

Some behaviour changes result from cognitive or perceptual problems. Others have to do with changes in your ability to communicate. After a stroke, you may experience:

  • Lack of emotional control (emotional lability). You may experience emotional responses that appear excessive (such as getting extremely angry over a minor incident) or do not match the situation being experienced (such as laughing after hearing bad news). These emotional responses may result in people misunderstanding you.
  • Acting too quickly without thinking things through (impulsivity). After a stroke, you may behave unsafely and act on sudden urges. For example, you might get up quickly from a wheelchair before thinking about putting on the brakes.
  • Repeating an action, word or phrase uncontrollably (perseveration). You may be unable to move on to the next activity or thought after having a stroke. Examples include washing your face or saying the same word repeatedly at a given time.

Behaviour tips

Emotional control
If the person you are caring for is having trouble controlling his or her emotions:

  • Ask if the feelings that (s)he is expressing to you match how (s)he is feeling.
  • Try distracting him/her to help him/her regain control and get on with an activity. For example, call out the survivor’s name. Alternatively, ask an unrelated question in a matter-of-fact way. Encourage them to slow down and take some deep breaths.
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Last reviewed: March 2013
Last modified: March 2013

Thinking

A stroke can affect your ability to think clearly, including:

  • Problem solving. Solving a problem requires memory, planning and the ability to make decisions. If your stroke has affected the parts of your brain that control these abilities, you may find it difficult to solve problems.
  • Paying attention. A stroke may cause you to have a short attention span. You may be easily distracted. This limits your ability to focus on a task. You may need more time to finish a task.
  • Sequencing (arranging things or performing actions in the right order). You may be unable to start a task because you don’t know where to begin. You may do things in the wrong order. For example, forgetting that underwear goes on before pants, and socks go on before shoes.
  • Making judgment calls. With impaired judgment, you may make choices that are not safe, for example, wearing light clothing in cold weather.
  • Lacking insight (knowing and understanding your abilities and limitations). A lack of insight may lead you to perform unsafe actions. For example, you may not recognize that a weak leg makes it unsafe to walk alone.

Thinking tips

Problem solving
If you are having difficulties problem solving, try these tactics:

  • Break tasks into small steps. Focus on one step at a time before moving to the next.
  • Ask for verbal cues. This helps you to develop the solution to a problem.
  • Try to identify different ways of solving the problem. Ask for help and talk about the different ways the problem could be approached.
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Last reviewed: March 2013
Last modified: March 2013

Memory

A stroke can affect your ability to learn and remember new information and carry it over into a daily task.

Remembering new information
You may be able to remember things that happened before the stroke, but have trouble learning and remembering new information. For example, you may:

  • Have difficulty applying information to a new setting. You may learn how to move from a wheelchair to a bed in the hospital, but not be able to do it at home.
  • Need reminders. You may forget to brush your teeth without someone telling you to.
  • Become confused or lost. You may get lost even though you are in a familiar place. Or you may lose track of the time or date.

Memory tips

Remembering new information
After having a stroke you may have troubles with remembering new information. To help, you can:

  • Keep a journal or list of items that are important to you. This might include a list of friends with their pictures by their names.
  • Be patient with yourself. Getting angry or frustrated will only make it more difficult to remember.
  • Look at how memory problems might affect your safety at home. Do you need reminders to turn off the stove or lock your doors?

Find ways to help you remember to take your medications.

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Last reviewed: March 2013
Last modified: March 2013