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By David Wasielewski


Developing New Social Networks after Stroke


Life following serious stroke is a series of difficult transitions. Those immediately following the stroke are often traumatic and anxiety ridden. Several weeks or months in a hospital or rehab facility, loss of a job, interruption of a career, radically altered family relationships, new medical routines and schedules. As one encounters and passes these multiple transitions they can become less traumatic. Whether a survivor becomes stronger or just numb to the process these events begin to elicit less and less anxiety.


As I move further from my stroke, 6+ years I can look back and reflect on what has happened and determine what affected the outcome of each transition. The traumatic events already mentioned are easy to pinpoint and analyze. Other transitions are more subtle and provide cause for personal reflection. One recent transition marked a not very traumatic milestone in my life.


As a long time friend moved across the country for a new job I realized that he was the last friend in my current social circle who I had known prior to my stroke. Our families socialized often and we both were members of the local ski patrol. We shared and compared our work experiences and spent a good amount of time skiing together with our children. Our similar life experiences created and maintained the bond of friendship. This was true of many others in my social circle as well.


As with many other survivors I have seen these friendships fade away over time. A lack of common experiences makes relationships harder to maintain and friendships diminish. I have come to see this not so much as a direct result of my stroke but rather as part of the normal process of life that results in changes in oneís social circle. At first, dealing with the stroke was an experience shared by my whole social group and served to create a bond.


As the stroke experience progressed it became a much more personal matter that could be less shared with others. My pre-stroke social group began to fade away as I had less contact with them. I donít believe that this happens because those folks no longer care for me as a person but rather because there are less shared experiences to maintain the social bond. I donít see this as a bad transition but it is rather much like other normal life transitions.


When one moves to a new location, takes a new job or has children oneís social circle changes. Having a stroke is much like these other changes. As life changes one finds new folks with similar life experiences and challenges to share your lives with. A new set of co-workers at a new job and new neighbors when you move gradually take the place of old friends. For most folks this is a normal process that you often donít even recognize as unusual.


For stroke survivors this can be a very different experience. Iíve met survivors who express anger that they have been Ďabandonedí by their friends. They often end up depressed about the situation and further isolated from social contacts. I might ask those individuals to see things from their friendís perspective.


Friendships are normally based on a give and take or sharing of experiences. The stroke survivor is often no longer able to share in many of those common experiences and the friendship bond naturally weakens. The depressed and isolated survivor can be left with a good deal of misplaced anger at former friends.


It is important that Survivors and Caregivers are aware of the significant social transition that almost inevitably occurs when someone experiences a serious stroke. The social network of friends that you initially rely on will, inevitably, fade over time.


The transition to a new social group is much less traumatic if the survivor and caregiver work early on to develop new relationships with those in similar life situations. Caregivers need to encourage survivors to actively keep in touch with current friends and not to rely on them to always reach out to the survivor.


They also need to actively seek out new opportunities to participate in support groups, attend classes, seminars and hobby groups and charitable organizations. These opportunities are available locally and through on- line networks. Actively pursuing new social relationships early on in recovery will help to lessen the trauma of loosing old your oneís former social network.


Copyright © September 2011

The Stroke Network, Inc.

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