May 17, 2013

It’s Stroke Awareness Month, and last time here on the Griswold blog, we talked about ways to lower the risk factors of stroke. But what if, despite your loved one’s best efforts, he or she suffers a stroke? They’re not alone: in the United States, more than 700,000 people have a stroke each year, according to the National Institute of Health. More than two-thirds of these people survive the stroke, and they require rehabilitation to get back to normal living.

Post-stroke rehabilitation helps stroke survivors relearn skills that were lost when the stroke damaged part of the brain. Rehabilitation may teach survivors how to coordinate leg movements to walk, or new ways of doing familiar tasks, such as bathing with one hand, or communicate effectively when their language skills have been damaged. If you have a loved one who is recovering from stroke, here’s what you can do to help:

Be there. Having a stroke can be difficult and frightening. Even if your loved one can’t communicate with you after a stroke, he or she often knows you are there and will take comfort in your presence.

Speak normally. Though stroke victims frequently have trouble speaking, their ability to understand language is often intact. You do not have to raise your voice. Speaking in shorter sentences can make your loved one feel less frustrated and helpless during their stroke recovery.

Help with concentration. Depending on what areas of the brain have been affected, processing information may be more difficult.  It might be helpful for you to focus with your loved one on one topic at a time, and to turn off distractions such as the TV while talking.  

Keep it one-on-one. Visiting with too many people at once can be confusing and overwhelming for a stroke victim. Keep visits one-on-one.

Watch for signs of depression. Stroke victims have experienced a loss and often go through a period of grief or depression. It takes time to recover and feel purposeful.  If your loved one is showing signs of depression (not eating, giving up instead of trying during physical therapy), talk to your doctor.

Find a support group. Once they are recovered enough, many stroke victims find that attending a support group helps them fight depression and adjust to their new situation. To find a support group near you, visit the American Stroke Association’s support groups page, here.

Make dressing simpler. Stroke victims often have trouble getting dressed. To make it easier, get clothes that fasten in front, substitute velcro for zippers, buttons, and shoelaces, and stick to clothing that is loose-fitting.

Get a caregiver. Taking care of a stroke victim can be too much for you to handle alone. Enlisting the help of a caregiver can take the pressure off, and help ensure that your loved one can stay comfortably in his or her home for as long as possible. Find a caregiver here.

Recovering from a stroke is a long, tough process. But with the right support, many stroke survivors make very successful recoveries. To learn more about recovery from stroke, read this excellent guide from the National Stroke Association.