Becoming a caretaker for a loved one who has suffered a stroke can require you to perform a wide range of tasks — from offering emotional support to serving as a personal driver — depending on the type and severity of the stroke.
So how can you help? Pfizer Regional Medical Research Specialist, Margaret (Meg) Frazer, MD, FAAN, suggests these five ways you can help care for a stroke survivor during the recovery process:
1. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
“It’s common to see a stroke survivor improve at the expense of the caregiver’s health,” according to Dr. Frazer. Remember to make time for yourself — whether you go on a relaxing walk when you can or spend a few extra minutes on an activity you enjoy. And try not to feel guilty when you do something on your own, because some independence for you both can be beneficial. There are also sites like Care Living that allow you to connect with other caregivers and share your common experiences.
2. Provide Emotional Support
Depending on the area of the brain affected by the stroke, survivors can be left confused, disoriented, and frustrated after the incident. It’s important to encourage them to express their feelings, and when they do open up, listen patiently. “You shouldn’t get discouraged if the person you’re caring for becomes angry with you,” notes Dr. Frazer. “Try not to take that type of reaction personally.” You should also look out for signs of severe frustration and depression, as an estimated 18% of stroke survivors experience depression after hospitalization. If you believe the person you’re caring for may be depressed, be sure to speak with his or her doctor about available treatment options.
3. Encourage Independence and Socialization
When the person you are caring for is physically able to go out again, it’s important to encourage him or her to get back into a routine. Reintroducing appropriate hobbies and allowing stroke survivors to begin doing things for themselves when possible is an important part of building independence, especially for younger survivors (under the age of 55). And don’t forget about social activities, too, because recovering from a stroke can be very isolating. “We know how important physical activity is for rehabilitating stroke victims, but socialization can also improve certain areas of the brain that are often affected by stroke,” says Dr. Frazer.
4. Stay Organized
It’s very important that the stroke patient makes it to all of his or her follow-up appointments. Try using an appointment book to keep track of their schedule. For each of these appointments, it’s important to have up-to-date information on the medications the patient has been taking, including supplements. “Some supplements can interfere with common medications prescribed to stroke survivors,” notes Dr. Frazer. Try creating a health journal to keep track of important medical information. It’s also helpful to prepare a list of questions that you or your loved one may have so you’re ready to address any concerns.
5. Provide Motivation
When it comes to the recovery process — especially physical therapy — providing motivation is essential. “Therapy can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to offer support and encouragement,” says Dr. Frazer. You should also keep in mind that the majority of stroke recovery takes place over the first six months. After that time, the survivor may start to feel like he or she isn’t getting any better. Remind them that recovery may continue for up to two years, and then keep providing positive reinforcement.