A man rubbing his face in exhaustion

Stroke patients experience excessive fatigue.

Stroke patients suffer from ongoing fatigue, but why? A Ph.D. student at the University of Copenhagen collaborated with doctors at Glostrup Hospital in Denmark to find out. They concluded that certain actions became associated with exhaustion for stroke patients. The findings suggest that stroke patients should focus on building new routines, rather than reconstructing old ones.

The research began with the observation that stroke patients are often fatigued, but not necessarily for physiological reasons. Many people recovering from stroke center their energies on re-establishing their life’s rhythms. Researcher Michael Andersen hypothesized that this fatigue could stem from the associations with specific objects or activities.

For any person, certain rituals or items can bring on moods or physiological responses. Consider lying in bed to read before sleeping. If this is a frequent routine, eventually reading in bed in the afternoon could make you fall asleep. “After a stroke, many patients feel constantly fatigued without being able to locate it,” says Andersen. The same process of creating associations or routines can occur with stroke patients, but the triggers are not always what people expect.

To discover what prompted the fatigue, Andersen evaluated 12 stroke patients through interviews conducted at the outset of the study and later after the patients had returned home. He also monitored the patients’ interviews with doctor’s and nurses.

The doctors had not been able to identify a source of these patients’ fatigue, but Andersen noted that it was the association with certain activities that made the patients tired. For example, one woman stated that she became so tired that she slept all day after riding her bike to run an errand, returning home, and locking up the bicycle. Andersen realized that the act of locking the bicycle had become associated with immense fatigue. When the patient returned home and did not lock up her bicycle, she was able to do more in the day.

This study suggests that stroke patients should consult their doctors to pinpoint what aspects of their lives may be associated with fatigue. From there, patients can work to establish new routines that circumvent the exhaustion. Andersen advises that, rather than trying to recapture old routines, stroke patients should be adaptable and find alternate ways to complete daily tasks.

This research is part of the cross-disciplinary research project Centre for Healthy Aging.

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