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Stroke Smart Magazine

Fall 2010

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No Such Thing as Too Much Support

Understand the Importance of a Solid Supporting Cast During Recovery

By Jon Weiner

The question after a stroke becomes, what happens next and how do we move forward? Family members, friends and caregivers play a huge role in helping stroke survivors bounce back, though it is never an easy task. Caregivers need to understand and embrace the challenges ahead.

Of all the areas in life that stroke affects, the impact on a survivor’s personality is one of the most difficult for close family and friends to understand and accept. Physical impairments are part of it, but it is the mental changes in someone you have known forever that are some of the toughest hurdles to cross. The support of a stroke survivor’s inner circle and embracing the new situation are absolutely crucial to the healing process. Recovery is a challenging experience to deal with and people usually do not know where to begin.

First, stroke survivors and their caregivers need to gain understanding about what has happened and what the best road to recovery will be.

“Emotional changes are typical with any type of stroke,” says Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers, a national in-home care provider that works with stroke survivors and families from coast to coast. “After a stroke, chemical changes occur in the brain that can translate into new ways of feeling and dealing with emotions. These changes can actually make it more difficult for stroke survivors to feel the same positive feelings they used to, which is exactly why the mood and tone set by those closest to them is so vital to recovery.”

Depression occurs in almost half of all stroke survivors. Family and caregivers need to step in and be a source of motivation when early signs start to appear. The best response is to get your loved ones active and moving. And if depression symptoms continue, it is important to get professional help from a therapist or mental health professional familiar with stroke survivors. Some of these symptoms might include loss of interest in ordinary activities, feeling sad most of the time, fatigue, insomnia or oversleeping, crying all the time, or ongoing thoughts of death or suicide.

The second step for everyone involved is to get moving — mentally, physically and emotionally. Start small, build momentum and keep it going at all costs.

“Any change, mental or physical, that results in a loss of independence is going to be difficult to accept,” Ross explains. “Setting small goals and milestones for recovery is important, and celebrating after each small success can make a world of difference in how the situation is perceived — for everyone.”

Set a goal of raising an affected arm or leg just a few feet without assistance. Or if there is difficulty using hands or fingers, work at strengthening them one at a time. When the strength and control start to return, celebrate and embrace every bit of progress.

No matter how much we might want it to, complete functionality is not going to come back all at once. Realizing this and accepting it is a scary thought — but it is a lot less intimidating if there are family, friends or caregivers to help along the way. Just like building a house, recovery happens one brick, one small victory at a time. So do not give up, take control of rehabilitation and mark each success as a victory.

Jon Weiner is a freelance writer based out of Raleigh, NC, who frequently writes about a number of senior and senior-health-related issues.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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