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How to Help Someone Who Had a Stroke: A Guide for Caregivers and Family Members

Two adult sons laughing with elderly dad who had a stroke

Stroke recovery can be a difficult process. It often takes constant, dedicated work to regain independence, which can be physically and emotionally draining. That’s why for stroke survivors, having a loved one there to support them through the ups and downs of recovery is critical.

As a family member or friend, you may be wondering how to best help someone who has had a stroke. In this article, we will show you a few simple ways you can help make the recovery process easier for your loved one.

Tips for Helping Someone Who Had a Stroke

Caring for someone with a stroke can be overwhelming, especially at the beginning of their recovery. The following are 7 tips you can use to provide extra support.

1. Learn More About Stroke

The first step you should take to help someone who has had a stroke is to learn more about their specific condition.

A stroke occurs when an artery supplying blood to the brain becomes completely blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke), resulting in damaged or destroyed brain cells.

Because no two people are exactly alike, no two strokes will be the same either. This means that your loved one’s experience will be unique, and they will not necessarily have the same stroke side effects as someone else.

With that said, the location, size, and duration of the stroke can often predict what recovery will look like. That is why it’s beneficial to contact your loved one’s doctor to ask about the size and location of the stroke. This will help you provide the best care possible.

2. Don’t Do Everything

woman having tea with elderly mother in her living room

While it can be tempting for caregivers to help the stroke survivor with everything, this can actually harm their recovery in the long term.

During stroke recovery, your loved one is working on rebuilding neural pathways in their brain. By rebuilding these pathways, they can regain the abilities they lost. This process is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s one of the main ways that the brain heals from injuries such as stroke.

However, to activate neuroplasticity, the person must engage in repetitious activity. For example, to relearn how to use their hands, they need to perform activities using their hands.

Therefore, if you are constantly doing everything for them, their brain’s will not receive the stimulation it requires, and their recovery will stall.  

3. Encourage Rehab Exercises

Although caregivers should try to give the person with a stroke their independence, you may need to encourage your loved one to participate in therapy. For example, try to remind them to do their exercises for at least a few minutes every day.

Stroke survivors who experienced a frontal lobe stroke often struggle with planning ahead and staying on task. As a result, they cannot take the initiative and do their therapy on their own.

With enough practice, the person can learn to initiate activities, but until then they will need your help.

4. Understand the Invisible Side of Stroke

daughter on couch trying to talk to angry mother, wondering how to help someone who had a stroke

When most people think of stroke side effects, the ones that immediately come to mind are physical ones such as paralysis or slurred speech.

However, many stroke symptoms are not as easily recognized. As a result, it can be tempting to think the person is fine when in fact they are not.

Fatigue, depression, anxiety, and attention deficits are all effects of stroke that can manifest in subtle ways. It might look like your loved one is being inconsiderate when in fact they are just confused.

Learning the various cognitive side effects of stroke can help you stay patient and better help someone who has had a stroke.

5. Overcome Communication Barriers

Sometimes disorders such as aphasia or dysarthria occur post-stroke, which impairs the person’s speech. Depending on the severity of the aphasia, the stroke survivor may struggle to find the correct words or understand what you are saying.

Please note that aphasia does not mean that a stroke survivor has lost his or her intelligence. It simply means they have lost the ability to produce the right words. If you can remember that, then you can interact with grace.

Be patient. When your survivor has trouble understanding you, do not shout. They can hear you fine, they simply have difficulty processing words as quickly as before.

Just repeat what you said normally, and both parties will feel respected.

Related: 13 things every stroke survivor wished you knew

6. Provide Emotional Support

close up of group of people holding hands around table in afternoon light

Many stroke survivors face devastating losses that can compromise their sense of freedom. This may explain why over 50% of stroke victims experience depression within a year of their stroke.

Your loved might react to their grief in different ways. For example, they may withdraw from others, or become more irritable and frustrated. To provide them with the support they need, understand that these emotions are a normal part of the healing process. Don’t try to force them to feel or act happy. Instead, help them by simply being there and lending a sympathetic ear.   

If they are open to it, you might consider taking them to a stroke support group where they can talk with other survivors and vent their frustration.

Caregiver support groups can also be a good option for family members and friends as well. Not only can you find helpful advice on caring for stroke victims, you can meet like-minded peers who can offer you guidance and emotional support for your own grief. This is an important way to avoid caregiver burnout.

7. Maintain Social Connections

Stroke survivors are often faced with isolation, either from immobility or post-stroke depression. That’s why it is critical to keep them as connected to their community as possible. Whenever someone is going through tough times, things are always much more bearable with the presence of close friends and family.

Support your loved one with the best gift you can give: your relationship. There’s power in your presence. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say; most of the time you don’t need to say anything at all.

Sometimes all you need to do is simply be there.

Helping Stroke Survivors on the Road to Recovery

As you can see, some steps for stroke recovery are not obvious. Sometimes, helping someone too much can actually impede their recovery, for example. That’s why it is important to educate yourself about stroke as much as possible. Fortunately, we are here to help.

When you download the free e-book below, you’ll get dozens of tips on stroke recovery, along with our weekly newsletter. It’s one of the best ways to educate yourself and help someone you know who had a stroke. We hope to see you in your inbox!

Featured Images: ©iStock/monkeybusinessimages

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Get Inspired with This Stroke Survivor Story

Mom gets better every day!

When my 84-year-old Mom had a stoke on May 2, the right side of her body was rendered useless. In the past six months, she has been blessed with a supportive medical team, therapy team, and family team that has worked together to gain remarkable results.

While she still struggles with her right side, she can walk (with assistance) and is beginning to get her right arm and hand more functional. We invested in the FitMi + MusicGlove + Tablet bundle for her at the beginning of August.

She lights up when we bring it out and enjoys using it for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time. While she still doesn’t have enough strength to perform some of the exercises, she rocks the ones she can do!

Thanks for creating such powerful tools to help those of us caring for stroke patients. What you do really matters!

David M. Holt’s review of FitMi home therapy, 11/09/2020

5 stars

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