A British man who almost ten years ago suffered a devestating stroke has, despite the seriousness of his condition, found cause to smile: namely because he is now incapable of feeling sadness. How does this happen, and why must we be sure not to forget the more usual outcomes stroke patients suffer?
Malcolm Myatt, 68, reportedly had a stroke in 2004 that put him in the hospital for 19 weeks and left him without much feeling on his left side. Doctors later told him he had suffered damage to the frontal lobe of his brain which, among other characteristics, controls our emotions.
Since then, Myatt has had to adjust to life with short term memory loss, limited mobility in his left arm and difficulty in walking, among several other symptoms. He has done all this, however, with a smile. That’s because, through a highly unusual turn of events, the stroke has in fact left him unable to feel sadness or depression. Now, it isn’t unusual for stroke victims to suffer an inability to control their emotions, but a total loss of a particular set of emotions is unusual.
The retired lorry driver from England is quoted as saying, “I am never depressed. Being sad wouldn’t help anything anyway. I would definitely rather be happy all the time than the other way round. It’s an advantage really. The stroke could have become my worst enemy but I wouldn’t let it. Now I barely even notice that I don’t feel sadness.”
Myatt’s wife, Kath, does note in what appear fond comments that he is often “childish,” always telling jokes and even that he is unable to be serious.
Dr. Clare Walton, of the Stroke Association, is quoted as saying that while this is unusual, it isn’t entirely unprecedented: “While we haven’t heard before of stroke survivors completely losing the ability to feel a particular emotion, many find it very difficult to control their emotions and may cry or laugh at inappropriate times.”
While this has been treated as a feelgood story, it should be noted that as a result of Mr. Myatt’s stroke, he is now in the early stages of vascular dementia, something he obviously won’t recover from. The story does serve, though, as a platform to discuss the serious issue of strokes.
Strokes occur when the supply of blood to the brain is restricted or stopped, leading to brain cells dying and sometimes is fatal. Strokes are classed as a medical emergency and, according to the American Heart Association, they are the number four cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the USA.
Strokes can be caused either by a clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain, termed an ischemic stroke, or by a blood vessel rupture that in turn prevents blood flow to the brain, known as a hemorrhagic stroke. There are also events called transient ischemic attacks or TIAs, a temporary clot that results in a so-called “mini stroke,” which is often less damaging but still serious.
The results of a stroke often depend on the areas of the brain that are affected, with a stroke near the brain stem being potentially the most devastating as it could impact both sides of the brain.
It is true that some people can be incredibly lucky and survive a stroke with only minimal and perhaps even no long term effects. More often, however, strokes lead to paralysis on one side of the body (sometimes both), vision problems, memory loss and, if occurring on the right side of the brain, speech or language problems. In most cases, a stroke will mean the person suffers a mild to marked change in personality. While over several years some stroke victims will see an improvement in their condition, they will not recover. The key, then, is to prevent a stroke.
No matter age, race, gender or lifestyle, anyone can suffer a stroke, but there are groups of people that are more susceptible. According to the National Stroke Association, these include being over the age of 55, being male, or being African American, Hispanic or Asian. Having a family history of stroke or TIA is also classed as an uncontrollable risk factor.
Among those elements of stroke risk that are controllable are having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, circulation problems, tobacco use and smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity and obesity.
We may be tired of hearing it but eating a balanced diet or primarily fresh unprocessed foods and doing frequent moderate exercise can all help with these risk factors and therein decrease the likelihood of a stroke.
As happy as Mr. Myatt apparently is, for it would seem he has no choice but to be so, his case also serves to show us that it is not just stroke victims that must deal with the effects of a stroke, but that it also has an impact on family members who must in turn often make considerable and even radical changes to their own lives in order to support and care for the stroke victim.
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