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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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Ways to Adapt to a Role Change

By Erica Bray

When Chuck Havrilla's wife, Rachel, had a stroke in 2004, the dynamics of their everyday life changed dramatically — right down to who paid the bills. Rachel's aphasia prevented her from running the family finances, a duty she'd assumed throughout their marriage. So this became Chuck's role.

“I had to learn all about paying the bills because she always took care of it,” he says. “I hadn't done it at all for almost 40 years of marriage.”

Havrilla is not alone. Following a stroke, everyday responsibilities and roles once held by the stroke survivor often fall into the hands of the caregiver. Husbands whose wives did all the cooking suddenly find themselves preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Wives whose husbands dealt with home improvement are suddenly responsible for fixing the furnace.

“The first year is an essential transition period,” said Sharon Ostwald, PhD, RN, professor at The University of Texas at Houston. “There is a need to restructure and change. For caregivers, a big part of that is picking up a whole set of other roles on top of their current one.”

While caregivers often want to focus all of their energy on the stroke survivor's medical and emotional care, everyday responsibilities also demand attention.

Here are some tips for how caregivers can adapt to role changes after stroke*:

  1. Make it a partnership. Communication is key. As much as possible, re-allocate and agree on new responsibilities together.

  2. Be realistic. Recognize which roles are negotiable and which are not. Understand what the survivor can and cannot do.

  3. Be patient. Stroke survivors may resent the fact that they can no longer fulfill a specific role. Caregivers may resent taking on new and unfamiliar roles. Empathy is essential during this transition period.

  4. Provide encouragement. Always try to find ways to incorporate stroke survivors in roles they once held. For instance, if your loved one was in charge of dinner but can no longer cook, perhaps there is another way to assist in the meal preparation.

  5. Prioritize. Caregivers can suddenly be overwhelmed with new responsibilities. Many families use a communal dry-erase calendar as a helpful tool for staying organized.

  6. Ask for help. One person can't do it all. Don't be afraid to reach out to family and friends for help, especially with minor chores and errands.

  7. Take time for yourself. Remember that your mental and physical health is important, too. Knowing when to talk to a friend or take a break makes caregivers more effective.

  8. Maintain rituals. Although specific roles may change, remember to foster the relationship. Couples who have survived a stroke should celebrate their marriage. Go out to dinner. See a play. Break free of the caregiver- stroke survivor roles.

  9. Keep a sense of humor. Transitioning into new roles can be emotional and stressful. Laughter can help ease the everyday stress.

*These tips were compiled from stroke survivors, caregivers and professionals.



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