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Stroke survivors lose contact with friends and their wider social network, says study

Research shows that many stroke survivors report that their social networks are badly affected

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Academics at City University London have found that having a stroke can badly affect a person’s social network, in a study published by the Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research.

Contact with children and relatives remained relatively stable. However, many stroke survivors reported that the number of friends they saw significantly reduced. Prior to the stroke, 14% said they had one or no friends; by six months post stroke this figure had risen to 36%, with 20% reporting that they had no close friends at all. Many in the study were less satisfied with their social relationships following the stroke; the social networks of 63% were negatively affected.

Stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition. Every year around 110,000 people have a stroke in England and it is the third largest cause of death after heart disease and cancer. It is also the leading cause of adult disability in the UK.

To find out more about how having a stroke affected the nature of social networks, the City team recruited 87 stroke survivors from two acute stroke units based in London teaching hospitals. They interviewed participants at two weeks, three months and six months post stroke, using a range of measures some of which explored social relationships including frequency of contact with friends and family, and satisfaction with that contact.

One factor which made people particularly at risk of losing contact with people in their social network was aphasia. Aphasia is a language disability that can affect talking, understanding, reading or writing. For around 15% of stroke survivors, aphasia will persist as a life-long condition, and can be a cause of great distress and frustration. This latest research suggests it can also challenge a person’s ability to maintain satisfying social relationships, more so even than stroke severity or physical disability.

Those stroke survivors who had the strongest social networks six months post stroke were those who did not have any language disability, were able to carry out everyday activities in and out of the house (for example, shopping, preparing meals), were black, and perceived themselves to be well-supported.

Speaking about the study, Dr Sarah Northcott, Research Fellow in the School of Health Sciences at City University London, said:

“Our study showed that many stroke survivors report that their social networks are badly affected. People who have aphasia are particularly at risk of losing contact with friends and their wider social network.

“We know that supportive relationships are crucial in enabling a person to adjust to life following a stroke, so it’s really important that we consider a person’s support networks during post-stroke rehabilitation. More generally, as a society we need to consider how to prevent people with stroke and aphasia from becoming socially isolated.”

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.