Introduction: Young adults are the fastest growing population of stroke patients. Current treatments enable physicians to reverse ischemic stroke, and young adult stroke survivors (YASS) are increasingly discharged directly home with few to no neurological deficits. Without acute rehabilitation needs, there are limited opportunities to identify and address the psychosocial issues that may result from this significant health event. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of YASS who went home from acute care with few to no neurological deficits.
Method: Qualitative research methods were used. YASS <55 years who received intravenous/intra-arterial treatment for a large vessel acute stroke and discharged directly home from a metropolitan hospital were recruited. Participants were interviewed in person using in-depth, semi-structured one hour interviews. They were asked about post-stroke discharge experiences and what it is like to be a YASS. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim by the interviewer and analyzed with a level one summary to discern themes.
Results: Three YASS, one female and two males, age 34-55 years and 3-7 years post-stroke participated. Analysis of the data identified six overarching themes: stress as a precursor to stroke, experiencing invisible symptoms, fear and anxiety of future stroke, emotional responses, no personal frame of reference for the event, and sources of strength to recover.
Discussion: YASS that did exceptionally well following a treated stroke still experienced emotional and cognitive changes. All participants spoke of experiencing high levels of life stress preceding their strokes which they perceived as a “hidden” risk factor. They felt their outward appearances and functional levels were incongruent with inner symptoms of feeling “not themselves”. They expressed fear and anxiety of having another stroke. Perceptions of their experiences were based on their healthcare providers that used positive expressions for their outcomes (i.e. “lucky” and “miraculous”). The YASS talked about family support and faith that helped recovery.
Conclusion: Further research is needed to explore this emerging population of YASS to take steps toward optimizing their experiences and recovery.