If your loved one just suffered from a stroke, you and your family might be going through a difficult time. Tragically, you’re not alone — more than 795,000 people in the United States have strokes every year. But, that doesn’t diminish the fear and confusion you may feel as a caregiver.
If you’re helping a loved one through stroke recovery, read these seven tips to be a better caregiver to your loved one (while also taking care of yourself).
1. Get Smart About Strokes
The best thing you can do for your loved one? Get smarter about strokes.
As your loved one begins the recovery process, you’re going to enter an unfamiliar world, full of terms you don’t understand, strangers you’ll have to rely on, and routines that you aren’t accustomed to. A lack of knowledge doesn’t just slow down your loved one’s recovery — it puts far greater stress on you to keep up with a recovery process you can’t wrap your head around.
Do yourself and your loved one a favor. Read everything you can about strokes and stroke recovery, and don’t be shy about asking questions. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask the healthcare team for clarification. Don’t be embarrassed. Most people don’t know that much about strokes and educating yourself is the best way to ensure that you provide your loved one with the best possible care.
2. Work with Your Healthcare Team
Along similar lines, don’t be afraid to use your loved one’s healthcare team as a resource.
Remember, they’re professionals, and their job is to help your loved one heal. They understand this process intimately. So take the time to become familiar with everyone in your loved one’s healthcare team, from nurses to doctors to therapists. Talk to your loved one beforehand as well. Ask if there are any questions they might be too scared to ask, or if there’s anything they don’t understand. Attend medical appointments with your loved one so you can keep track of any new information. In addition, if the hospital or rehab clinic offers a support group, don’t be shy about attending. Other stroke survivors and your fellow caregivers can offer a wealth of advice about
the process and how to avoid problems that they struggled with at earlier stages. They may also be able to explain a concept in a way that makes sense to the average person.
3. Watch for Mood Changes and Depression
Unfortunately, physical challenges aren’t the only obstacles your loved one will have to overcome when recovering from a stroke — they’re just the most obvious.
Before the stroke, your loved one may have been very independent. Now, they have to rely on extensive support from family members and healthcare professionals. This can be emotionally hard, especially when recovery feels like an endless uphill battle.
Don’t try to tell your loved one that you know how they feel — you really can’t know. Instead, offer your love and patience, and ask them what you can do to best support them.
You should also keep an eye out for signs of depression — stroke survivors are at a higher risk of developing depression and this psychological downturn can seriously hamper their progress.
If you see signs of depression, don’t ignore them. Advocate for your loved one and seek treatment right away.
4. Assess Your Finances
Another thing you should do early in the recovery process is to take a long, honest look at your finances. Rehabilitation following a stroke is costly. Bills can run in the tens of thousands even with Medicaid, Medicare, or health insurance. That’s because you have to enlist the services of several different kinds of doctors over an extended period of time. Once a loved one has a stroke, it’s a good idea to prepare early. The Patient Advocate Foundation can be a great help to families figuring out how to afford care.
5. Advocate for (and Participate in) Rehab
In this process, you are your loved one’s advocate. And if you do your homework, doctors will tell you that the majority of progress happens during the first six months of recovery.
With that in mind, it’s vital that you advocate for your loved one during rehabilitation — and participate in rehab. Get your loved one started in rehab as soon as you can. Once you’re there, don’t be afraid to talk to the therapist. Ask what you can do to help your loved one, what areas they’re struggling in, and what you can do at home between sessions. However, it’s also important not to help too much during rehab. It sounds counterintuitive, but the goal of rehab is to help your loved one regain their independence. If you’re constantly hovering, they’ll come to rely on your help more than their own capabilities. It’s all about balance. Don’t be afraid to step up and help, but recognize that your job is to support your loved one, not do all of the work on their behalf.
6. Write Everything Down
You might be getting the idea from the last few points, but it’s vital that you write everything down. You’re going to handle a great deal of information. Even if you have all the time in the world to devote to your loved one’s recovery, you’re going to forget something.
Do yourself a favor and take extensive notes. It takes the pressure off of you if you have notes you can refer to. This also makes it easier if a different family member has to attend an appointment. They can use your notes to get up to speed so the doctor doesn’t have to spend the whole appointment filling them in on basic details.
7. Take Care of Your Own Health, Too
Finally, don’t forget to attend to your own health too. For caregivers, their loved one is their first priority. That makes it easy for many caregivers to neglect their own health. The truth is, you cannot care for your loved one if you don’t have anything to offer, whether that’s physical energy to help out around the house or the emotional energy necessary to provide support.
Caregivers can often end up feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and exhausted — all of which puts them at risk for depression as well. Your loved one knows you and they know if you’re not doing well. Your depression isn’t going to make theirs any better. Take advantage of available support systems. Distribute work among available family members, attend local support groups, maybe even go to a therapist on your own. You’re a person too. Take the time to recognize that you’re a human being and you need time to tend to yourself. It will make you a better caregiver to your loved one.
Helping Families Through Stroke Recovery
We know that stroke recovery is a difficult process for patients and caregivers alike. It takes a village to raise a child (or heal a family member). Let SmithLife Homecare be part of your village.
To learn more about Living With Aphasia (a common side effect of a stroke), we will have a screening of A Never Ending Journey of Hope, starring Carl McIntyre. This film will explore the communication impact of aphasia. Following the film, Darlene S. Williamson, M.A., CCC-SLP, founder and executive director of the Stroke Comeback Center and president of the National Aphasia Association and members of Charles E. Smith Life Communities medical team will hold a discussion about living with aphasia.