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‘Invisible impairments’ hinder stroke patients who return to work: study

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Cambridge, England – Stroke patients frequently contend with “invisible impairments” that make keeping a job difficult, but employers can help, according to a study from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London.

Researchers examined information from TalkStroke, the Stroke Association’s United Kingdom-based online forum, from 2004 to 2011 to study the challenges that stroke patients face when returning to work. The researchers reviewed 20,000 posts and found 60 people who wrote about returning to work. According to a university press release, nearly all of those individuals struggled with issues such as fatigue, communication challenges, and memory and concentration problems.

Some individuals said their co-workers misunderstood them because they looked “normal” even though they did not feel normal, the release states. Many also reported being stressed by unhelpful employers and bullied by co-workers.

“Although a stroke survivor may look like they have recovered, they can be still be affected by invisible impairments that make work difficult,” lead study author Anna De Simoni, lecturer in primary care research at Queen Mary University of London and visiting researcher at the department of public health and primary care at the University of Cambridge, said in the release. “Conversations in the Internet forums suggest we need to raise awareness of the support available to individuals, but also more widely amongst primary care professionals and employers of how they can best accommodate and support their staff.”

Kate Pieroudis, manager of the Back to Work Project at the Stroke Association, said planning can help employers understand how a stroke affects a particular worker and make adjustments such as reduced hours, working from home, and a slow return to work.

The study was published online April 6 in the journal BMJ Open.

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