A stroke—the result of a blockage of blood flow to the brain—can have significant, permanent effects on speech, vision, swallowing and nerve and muscle function. However, the vast majority of public information on stroke is targeted toward senior citizens, the age group most commonly affected by stroke. There is very little stroke education or support available for younger adults, despite the fact that stroke symptoms may be more subtle and more difficult to detect in this population. As a result, many young adults may not recognize stroke symptoms or even understand that people their age can have a stroke. Neurologist Lester Leung, MD, is aiming to change that.
“Ten percent of strokes in adults occur in people between the ages of 18 and 50,” said Dr. Leung, the Director of the Stroke and Young Adults (SAYA) Program at Tufts MC. “Their lives change dramatically after a stroke. It’s more difficult to come to terms with potentially severe, lifelong disabilities when you have your whole life ahead of you. There are feelings of fear and loneliness that are not adequately addressed by referring these patients to a support group at a nursing home, surrounded by people decades older than them.”
An Innovative Care Plan
With the goal of catering to this under- served patient population, Dr. Leung founded the SAYA Program shortly after coming to Tufts MC in July 2015. The SAYA Program goes far beyond other offerings for young adult stroke victims that focus solely on rehabilitation and adaptation to disability. The SAYA Program has a three-part emphasis. First, patients receive a comprehensive medical evaluation in the Neurology clinic. Stroke experts evaluate each patient to fully understand why they had a stroke, estimate the risk of a second stroke (by identifying causes of stroke that are more common in the young adult population), and diagnose other
late complications of stroke, including epilepsy, cognitive impairments, movement disorders, depression and anxiety.
After the initial evaluation, the SAYA team works closely with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Department of Speech Language Pathology to optimize stroke recovery, including mapping out a tailored plan to help each individual patient get back on his or her feet, return to work and achieve life goals.
Finally, the SAYA Program offers a social and educational support group for young adults with stroke that is open and available to them far beyond the initial diagnosis and treatment phase. The group organizes periodic events to give patients a chance to be around other people of a similar age with shared experiences; a painting class at the end of February 2016 was the inaugural activity.
“Stroke can happen to anyone at any time, and there are a lot of people out there who still have long lives to lead after a stroke,” said Dr. Leung. “We need to support them, guide them and help them past the initial frustration and despair. They are capable of accomplishing much more than they know or expect and can realize the meaningful, fulfilling lives for which they hope and dream. The SAYA program can help them get there.”
For more information on the SAYA Program, or to make an appointment, please call 617-636-5848.