Recently, researchers have found that insomnia may be a long-term effect of a stroke. But what does that mean for those who have had a stroke in the past?

Well, simply put, it means that the road to recovery may take a bit longer than expected.

After a stroke, there are many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes in a person. It all depends on what part of the brain was damaged, but frequent physical changes may include dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or hemiparesis (muscle weakness on one side of the body).

If a stroke survivor develops insomnia, the rebuilding and healing of muscles can’t occur, which can lead to a slower recovery. Additionally, without this needed sleep, individuals may notice more emotional changes (such as crankiness) and cognitive struggles (such as difficulty concentrating).

If you’ve had a stroke and now experience insomnia, there may be options out there for you to get better sleep. These options include meditation and breathing exercises, trying to follow a stricter bed-time schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time each day), and making sure to keep your bedroom dark and comfortable. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your physician.

After a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, an individual may feel frightened about what the future holds. Knowing that he or she has a friend or family member to lean on may help make things a bit more comfortable in their changing world. Here are 5 easy ways to help:

  1. Talk About Changes Your Friend or Family Member is Experiencing
    For someone with Parkinson’s disease, it can be scary to realize that tasks that were once easy are now difficult. Just being there for your loved one and talking things through can help provide more comfort with the new symptoms or thoughts he or she may be experiencing.
  2. Offer to Attend Doctor Visits
    If your loved one is okay with you coming along to his or her doctor visits, you can help by remembering specific instructions from the doctor. You also can help your loved one remember any important information he or she wants to share.
  3. Educate Yourself on Parkinson’s disease
    Educating yourself about Parkinson’s disease can show your loved one that you care about what he or she is going through. In addition, it can help you learn how to adjust to your friend or family member’s physical and emotional changes.
  4. Help Make Safety Changes to Your Loved One’s Home
    For someone with Parkinson’s disease, physical changes to his or her body may include loss of    balance and dizziness more frequently. You can help make safety adjustments to his or her home, such as safety rails and chairs in the shower or tub, removing tripping hazards, and tacking rugs to the floor.
  5. Encourage Your Loved One to Start Exercise or Physical Therapy Early
    An important way to help your loved one adjust to Parkinson’s disease is by encouraging him or her to exercise. Certain activities, such as yoga, stretching, and walking, can improve movement and balance. Activities that require memorization of movement can even help improve cognitive development.

A healthy diet is key to recovery after a stroke. But according to the National Stroke Association, 8-34 percent of stroke survivors suffer from malnutrition.

Not eating healthy to begin with has its negative effects. Not eating healthy after a stroke, however, slows down the recovery process and increases the chances of having another stroke.

So, how do stroke survivors eat healthy while trying to manage everything else in their lives? Simply put…eat the rainbow.

Look for foods that are divers in color. You want to try and have a “rainbow” on your plate during every meal: such as fruit, vegetables, grains, meat/poultry/fish, and dairy.

Beyond the rainbow, here are some additional healthy-eating tips:

  1. Never skip breakfast – Breakfast gives you the energy you need to start your day. Plus, you’ll feel fuller throughout the day which means you’ll snack a lot less.
  2. Say “Bye, bye, bye” to your salt shaker – Don’t add unnecessary salt to your foods. Replace salt with herbs and spices like basil or oregano.
  3. High-five high-fiber – Eating high-fiber foods such as beans, peas, nuts, salmon, and grains helps to reduce your cholesterol.
  4. Trick your brain – Have you ever seen an optical illusion that confused you of what you were seeing? Well, that’s essentially what you can do. Start using smaller bowls and plates for your meals to help control portion sizes. Your brain will see that the plate is full, helping to convince it that you are full once you’ve finished eating.

We’ve all had times when our memory has escaped us, and we know how frustrating that can be. Here are some easy tips and tricks to help improve your memory:

  • Tag, You’re It! – Attach new information with what you already know. It’s easier to remember something if you can tag it to something already stored in your memory. For example, you meet a man named Jesse. Attach the Jesse you met with the iconic “Jesse James” since Jesse James is already stored in your memory.
  • Picture Perfect – Picture in your mind what it is you want to remember AND BE DRAMATIC ABOUT IT! For example, your spouse asks you to pick up a loaf of bread after work. Visualize yourself at the grocery store with a gigantic loaf of bread 100 feet long.
  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – Go over again and again what it is you want to remember. And repeat it throughout the day.
  • Write it Down– Write things down. Start small by making a grocery list. Summarize important meetings. Keep a journal. Make it a habit.
  • Spend Time with Loved Ones – Being around those you love improves brain function, which can boost your memory, and your mood. It’s a win-win!
  • Make Life a Sing-a-Long – Just like High School Musical, start busting out into song randomly throughout the day. Studies show that singing your favorite songs can actually help improve your memory. Think of it like a “running-start” your brain needs to get going.

It was more than six years ago when Laura Trammell took the day off from work in the human resources department at Corpus Christi City Hall for her son’s birthday. It was a day that changed her life.

After returning home from delivering cupcakes to her son’s school, she had an event that left her unable to speak or walk. Trammell suffered a brain aneurysm and a stroke.

In the battle of the sexes, here’s one that women – often unknowingly – take the lead in: About 55,000 more women than men have strokes every year. Strokes kill more women than men annually, making it the #3 leading cause of death in women.

“To say I was surprised about having a stroke is an understatement,” Trammell says. “I always thought a man would be more likely to have stroke than me. I found out the hard way that’s not true.”

This gender misconception about strokes is common, according to Dr. Michael Fuentes, Medical Director of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. “Most people don’t realize that women suffer strokes more frequently than men,” he says. “If you’re a woman, you share a lot of the same risk factors for strokes as a man, but a woman’s risk also is influenced by hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, child-birth and other gender-related factors.”

For example, birth control pills may double the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure or who smoke. And, according to the American Heart Association, hormone replacement therapy – once thought to reduce stroke risk – in fact, actually increases it.

A recent study shared through the National Stroke Association listed these factors that have been found to increase stroke risk in women:

  • Menstruation before the age of 10
  • Menopause before age 45
  • Low levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS)
  • Taking oral estrogen or combined oral contraceptives

The study also showed a history of pregnancy complications can also indicate higher stroke risk.

These problems include gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during or immediately after pregnancy.

“Add this to other general risk factors for stroke like family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight –and it becomes clearer as to why women can be more at risk for stroke than men,” Fuentes says.

Trammell was treated at a local hospital for initial care before being transferred to Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. She spent more than two months receiving rehabilitation to help her recover, which included daily physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

“Everyone there was just so wonderful,” she says. “I went into the rehabilitation hospital not able to talk or walk, and I’m able to do those things now. My words are hard to come by, but I can speak clearly. My hand and foot on the right side of my body don’t work well, but my arms and legs move. I’m so grateful that I’ve recovered this far.”

“Whatever stage of life a woman is in, it’s important that she be aware of all the risk factors of stroke,” Fuentes says. “As it’s often said, ‘knowledge is power.’ And in this case, the more knowledgeable a woman is about her stroke risk factors, the more she’ll be able to understand how she can be affected and work with her physician or healthcare provider as appropriate to reduce them.”

According to the National Stroke Association, physically active individuals have a 25-30 percent chance of lower risk of stroke than less active individuals. An easy way to incorporate exercise into your day is to walk. You can do it anywhere, it’s free, and it’s low impact so it can help build strong bones and muscles with a low risk of getting hurt.

Here are some tips to take a step in the right direction and get moving:

  • Before starting any exercise program, check with your physician.
  • Start small. Warm up at a slower pace for the first five minutes of your walk; then walk at a brisk pace to get your heart rate up. You should be breathing heavier, but still able to talk. Go back to a slower pace for the last five minutes of your walk.
  • Determine your own length of time that’s comfortable for you to walk at the beginning. Add a couple minutes to your walk every week.

Try to walk at least 5 days a week. Ultimately, you should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per walk. But, if you can walk longer, go for it. This is one case where more can be better!