Sunday, April 15, 2018

Survivor’s Best Friend

Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp
a division of United Stroke Alliance
The following was originally posted in August of last year on the Stroke Network Newsletter at:
By Barb Polan
Anxiety and an ESA

Anxiety is a common diagnosis after a person has a stroke, with approximately one-third of survivors experiencing some form of it. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and selective mutism.

According to a study done in Sweden by T.B. Cumming, C. Blomstrand, I. Skoog, and T. Linden, published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, February 2016, “Those in the stroke group were significantly more likely than those in the comparison group to have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (27% versus 8%).” And, “Multivariate regression indicated that being in the stroke group, female sex, and having depression were all significant independent associates of having an anxiety disorder.”

Another study, this one by S.L Crichton, B.D. Cray, C. McKevit, A.G. Rudd and C.D. Wolfe, and published in The Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery Psychiatry, October 2016, found that anxiety persisted even in long-term survivors, concluding that “at 15 years, the prevalence of anxiety [was] 34.9%.”

With those odds of experiencing anxiety, especially if you are a woman and/or experience depression, you have an approximately one-in-three chance of benefitting from an emotional support animal (ESA).

My own ESA (a 25-pound dog named Turbo) has an instinctive response when I feel anxiety: he himself becomes anxious. It all makes sense – when he’s anxious, he tries to self-comfort: by snuggling on my lap and licking, licking, licking. His favorite targets are my ears and my affected hand.

My husband jokes, “Yes, Turbo’s a comfort dog – he needs a lot of comfort.”

But it works – I comfort him, and in the process, calm myself. It helps that the area behind my ears is ticklish and I immediately smile, plus hugging him and stroking his hair is soothing. As he relaxes, I relax, my anxiety receding back to behind my breastbone instead of rising to block my airways.
Barbara survived an ischemic stroke in November 2009, at 52 years old, caused by a dissection of her right carotid artery, which was probably caused by the physical strain of competitive rowing. The stroke resulted in left hemiparesis and the eventual loss of her job managing and editing a community newspaper. As a result, her physical therapy has focused on regaining the ability to row, something that gets closer every rowing season; for emotional and cognitive recovery, she writes a stroke-related blog and has published a memoir.
Copyright @August 2017
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009
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