Published: Tuesday 6 April 2016

‘Invisible impairments’ can make it difficult for stroke survivors to maintain a job, according to a study from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). The findings, published today in the journal BMJ Open, suggest that more needs to be done to make survivors, their GPs and employers aware of the difficulties that they may face.

To explore the experiences of people who have returned to work after a stroke, researchers analysed the archives of TalkStroke, a UK-based online forum hosted by the Stroke Association, across a seven year period (2004-2011).

The researchers searched more than 20,000 posts for the phrases “return to work” and “back at work” and identified 60 people who had posted about the issue during the seven year period. Almost all of those who managed to return to work still experienced a range of residual invisible impairments, including memory and concentration problems and fatigue.

On the online forums, some commenters described the problems with looking ‘normal’, but not feeling the same way and how this led to a lack understanding among co-workers, but also to their own sense of feeling a fraud.

Having a supportive employer helped people ease themselves back into work and enabled survivors to make adjustments, including a gradual return to work, reduced hours and working from home. But when employers were unsupportive, survivors found this particularly distressing and stressful; some posters even reported being bullied by colleagues.

Some commenters gave specific advice to others, such as recommending speaking to their GP, but awareness was low of what do and where to seek advice if stroke-related problems persisted long-term. 

The researchers were funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Evelyn Trust. 

Kate Pieroudis, Manager of the Back to Work Project at the Stroke Association said: “Employers can have a vital part to play in helping stroke survivors get back into the workplace and on the road to recovery. Stroke is incredibly complex and affects every person differently. In some cases, the long-term effects of the condition, such as communication problems or memory loss, may only become apparent in a work environment.

“With the right support, many stroke survivors can and do go back to work successfully. Planning with employers is essential so they understand how a stroke has affected an individual, and can put necessary support and adjustments in place. The Stroke Association provides information and practical advice on work and stroke to both employers and stroke survivors.”

Visit the University of Cambridge website to find out more.

The Stroke Association’s ‘Complete Guide to Stroke for Employers’ can be downloaded here

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