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Caring for Stroke Survivors: 11 Tips for Making Life a Bit Easier

Caring for a Stroke Survivor

If you are caring for a stroke survivor, you probably already know that there are numerous medical, practical, and even legal details to absorb. A sense of being overwhelmed is common.

One thing is clear: Knowledge is power. Patients tend to enjoy a higher quality of life and in some cases recover faster when caregivers learn all they can about delivering care and find helpful resources as early as possible. This is true for patients expected to make a full or partial recovery as well as those who are permanently affected by stroke.

Below are some helpful ideas for improving the care you provide and hopefully making your life a little easier, too:

  1. Make a list of questions and ask them before your loved one leaves the hospital following a stroke. Find out well in advance if the dwelling where the patient will be cared for requires any modifications or if a move to new apartment or home is a good idea. Ask about the patient’s prescriptions, medical equipment needs, and any diet or drug restrictions. It’s easier to ask nurses and doctors about what to expect while the patient is still under their direct care.
  2. During the process of learning about stroke survivor care, remember to discuss these matters with the patient’s primary care physician and neurologist. Each doctor may offer helpful insight from a different perspective.
  3. Create a folder to keep all information related to the patient and his/her care. Quick and easy access to organized notes and paperwork will save you time and headaches. It also will be a tremendous help for anyone who temporarily steps in while you take a break or during an emergency. This folder can be a ring binder or even a word processing file or folder on your computer. Tip: The stroke patient discharge packet should be the first item in the folder.
  4. Watch for behavioral signs and changes in the patient’s mood, such as anxiety, frustration, tiredness, lack of motivation, or slow responses. Stroke survivors are at high risk for depression, especially in the early and late stages of post-stroke recovery. It’s important to consult a health care professional to address the issue promptly, as depression hinders recovery and rehabilitation.
  5. A change in abilities can result in a change in services. Medicare/Medicaid coverage for rehabilitation therapy may be available if your loved one’s physical abilities change over time. Any improvement or decline in motor skills, speech, or self-care abilities could create the need for changes in services.
  6. Find out about stroke support groups in your area. Stroke survivors and caregivers alike benefit from interacting with others in similar situations. Support groups provide a forum for learning about available resources, such as meal programs and homemaker assistance. Listening to and socializing with other patients and caregivers can be empowering. Look online or ask the doctor or social worker for suggestions.
  7. Create a blog or Facebook page for your loved one. Interacting online can help minimize feelings of isolation. A “stroke recovery page” is a good way to share progress with family and friends and offers a means for others to volunteer occasional assistance and/or resources in helping you care for your loved one.
  8. Complete at least one professional consult concerning durable power of attorney, health laws, financial assistance, and other related legal and financial issues. Resolving these matters and having all needed documents in place can ease mental and emotional burdens and prevent serious issues down the road.
  9. Caregivers need to take care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. That may seem obvious, but research shows that caregivers often do not follow this advice. One way to reinforce this idea is to recognize that during a commercial aircraft emergency, adult passengers are urged to secure their own oxygen mask before doing so for children or elderly passengers in their care.
  10. In the context of taking care of yourself, learn to say ‘no’ to social invitations from family, friends, and coworkers when your schedule becomes too hectic.
  11. Learn to say ‘yes’. Most of us are reluctant to accept help and favors, even in extreme circumstances. This is a good time to get over that instinct. If anyone offers to sit with your loved one, prepare a meal, run errands, or do anything else that gives you a break from your demanding role, accept the offer. You and your loved one will benefit from the change in routine.

Click here for information on stroke symptoms, risk factors, and the care provided by the UAB Medicine Comprehensive Stroke Center. For more information about home care for stroke patients, see the National Stroke Association’s Careliving Guide.