May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Many individuals who have had strokes recover without limitations. Some individuals have temporary limitations while others have more long-term issues. Strokes can occur at any age, but are more common in people 65 years or older. Individuals who have had strokes can have short or long-term limitations that are cognitive or motor related. 

Accommodations for individuals who have had a stroke vary, but for those with vision loss, technologies are available to help them overcome these limitations. These technologies may help with reading printed material, accessing computer information, writing notes and completing forms, accessing a telephone, working with money, reading from an instrument, assembling parts, driving, working with light sensitivity, distinguishing colors, and being mobile.

Hemiparesis, which is a weakness of one side of the body, is one of many residual effects of having a stroke that limit physical or motor functioning.  Depending on the area of the brain where the stroke occurred, either the left or the right side of the body may experience a reduction in muscle strength. The degree to which motor functioning is limited depends on the individual and improvement in physical ability can be seen as a result of therapy and various forms of treatment. Hemiparesis can also limit an individual’s ability to perform a job or parts of a job, and those planning or preparing to return to work following a stroke may need to explore accommodation options. An individual experiencing hemiparesis may have difficulty walking, standing, balancing, climbing, grasping, or gripping objects for precision or detailed work tasks, and could experience general muscle fatigue or a lack of coordination. Depending on the type of job and the essential functions of the position, one or more accommodations may be needed to ensure that a return to work is successful for an individual with hemiparesis.

Strokes can also impact communication in a variety of ways depending on the part of the brain affected. Three typical speech and language impairments arising from stroke include dysarthria and apraxia, which impact one’s control over the movements of the muscles used in speaking; and aphasia, which causes difficulty understanding and using language. Some individuals who are recovering from stroke may have undergone evaluations to determine whether they would be helped by assistive technology such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. This may be more likely for individuals with severe apraxia of speech that is not responding well to other treatments. They may also have learned or be in the process of learning compensatory techniques such as using a slower rate of speech or using other communication methods like typing, writing, drawing, or gesturing to support and enhance communication.

A stroke is a life-changing event that can affect an individual’s emotional well-being as much as his/her physical function. Many of us know and understand the physical (weakness, paralysis), cognitive (memory, processing), and communication (speech, language) challenges stoke survivors face, but we may not be aware of the challenges faced when mood disorders occur as result of a stroke. Although stroke effects are unpredictable, mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and pseudo-bulbar affect (PBA) are common.

In general, accommodations could include the purchasing of equipment or assistive technology for an individual who uses a computer or performs detail-oriented assembly work. If an individual uses a mobility aid such as a scooter or wheelchair, worksite and/or workstation modifications may need to be made. A restructuring of a job, either to perform essential functions in a different way or reallocate marginal functions, flexibility in breaks, and leave to seek treatment may be potential accommodations to explore. Reassignment to a vacant position may be necessary if accommodations cannot be made in the current job or if an accommodation would pose an undue hardship.

JAN’s Accommodation Solutions: Executive Functioning Deficits is a publication detailing accommodations for individuals with limitations related to executive functioning. These ideas may be helpful in determining accommodations.

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