Stroke is extremely common and yet remarkably misunderstood. The FAST adverts have been on our TV screens for over a decade and continue to be tremendously successful in getting people to recognise stroke symptoms and take action. More people are surviving stroke than ever before and now nearly half of all UK adults know someone who has had a stroke.
And yet people’s understanding of what a stroke actually is remains surprisingly low. New research, conducted by the Stroke Association, shows that more than a quarter of UK adults don’t know that stroke happens in the brain. Why does this matter? Because this is key to understanding the complexity of stroke and the needs of those whose lives it devastates.
The brain is the control centre for who we are and what we do. When stroke strikes, part of your brain shuts down. And so does a part of you. Every stroke is different, and the impact varies depending on which part of the brain is affected. It could be anything from robbing you of your speech and mobility to affecting your emotions and personality. This can have sudden and massive consequences not only for the person who has had the stroke, but for their loved ones too.
There are over 1.2 million stroke survivors living in the UK, many of whom rely on others for help with the practicalities of day-to-day living. But a lack of understanding about stroke means that most of us, however well-intentioned, aren’t equipped to give stroke survivors the support they need. Our research found that nearly half of people who know a stroke survivor said they wanted to do more to help them, but they didn’t possess the right knowledge. Almost a fifth of respondents said they didn’t properly understand the overall impact of the condition.
Stroke survivors tell us that this knowledge gap can get in the way of their recovery – often preventing them from getting the right care and support. It’s not enough to be able to spot a stroke. We need to be more aware of the long-term effects, particularly the hidden effects like fatigue, depression and anxiety, because if we are not, people struggle to rebuild their lives.
We also need to change the way we think about stroke. It’s not an inevitable part of growing older - it can happen to anyone. Every five minutes, someone in the UK has a stroke. And a quarter of them are of working age. It’s big and it’s prevalent, and it could be you, a friend, a close relative.
Stroke is serious, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Recovery is tough but with the right specialist support and a ton of courage and determination, it is possible.
In our new advert, survivors describe experiencing life changing strokes in their own words. The results are simultaneously beautiful, nightmarish and devastating. Light like needles. Bodies draining away. Worlds spinning. Feeling like their lives are caught in a trap and every day is a challenge.
But our message is a positive one. The stroke survivors we work with and those featured in our campaign are proof that the brain can adapt. We’ve helped a lot of people to adjust to a new normal. With the right support - stemming from greater understanding - life after stroke is possible. There’s hope. And together we can support stroke survivors in rebuilding their lives.
For more information about Rebuilding Lives or about stroke, visit stroke.org.uk/rebuildinglives.
Dominic Brand, Executive Director of External Affairs at the Stroke Association