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Stroke Puts Stress on Spousal Relationship

Patient/caregiver roles often take the place of a partnership, researchers say

TUESDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Although many wedding vows include the phrase "in sickness and in health," a stroke can put that promise to the test by causing major relationship problems for married couples, according to British researchers.

The University of Ulster study included 16 married stroke survivors (nine males, seven females), aged 33 to 78. The time since their stroke ranged from two months to four years, with an average of 18 months.

The researchers found that the stroke significantly affected sexual activity, led to blurred relationship roles, and feelings such as anger and frustration were confounded by persistent fatigue and lack of independence.

Among the findings:

  • All but one of the stroke survivors experienced a reduction or total loss of sexual desire. Some believed this was due to the effects of medication or fear of another stroke.
  • Most of the females lost interest in their appearance, regardless of age.
  • All the survivors said they'd changed since their stroke. Many said they experienced irritability, anger, agitation and intolerance due to their frustration at not being able to perform daily activities. In some cases, over-protective spouses increased feelings of anger and frustration.
  • Many survivors were reluctant to resume social activities with their spouses because of fatigue, anxiety and swallowing problems.
  • Fatigue was often associated with reduced independence and guilt because survivors didn't know how they'd feel from day to day and couldn't plan ahead.

"All the participants perceived a stroke as a life-changing event. They faced a continuous daily struggle to achieve some sense of normality and that required huge amounts of physical and mental effort," study co-author Assumpta Ryan, of the University of Ulster's Nursing Research Institute, said in a university news release.

The study was published online in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

More information

The National Stroke Association has more about life after stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Ulster, news release, Nov. 3, 2009

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