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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2009

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How to Treat Me
Speak Slowly, Softly, Clearly to Me

By Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

When I respond to people whose loved ones have recently had a stroke, often my first words are that it is critically important that friends and caregivers don’t “freak out” for at least six weeks after the stroke. Traumatized brain cells don’t function normally, leaving that person perhaps unable to speak or understand you when you give them simple verbal commands such as “squeeze my finger. “The stroke survivor might not be able to identify the boundaries of their body or know the position of their limbs.

Because of my stroke, I had become a wounded animal and I needed people to come close, speak slowly and clearly to me. I needed them to bring me a soft, gentle energy and limit the length of their visits so my energy was replenished rather than depleted. It was important that those around me knew that raising their voice did not help me understand what they were saying. I was not deaf, but simply unable to comprehend verbal language. When people around me did raise their voice, I did not feel safe in their care.

It is important that caregivers give the stroke survivor’s brain enough time for the swelling to go down and become normal. It can be weeks, months or years before anyone will have any idea about how much function a survivor can regain.

It was important for my friends and colleagues to treat me as though I was a stroke survi­vor rather than a stroke victim. By treating me like a survivor, people let me know that I had already accomplished something important and it encouraged me to take the next step toward recovery. When I was treated like a victim, I felt a negative energy that limited my efforts. Please don’t ever assume that the stroke survivor is not sensitive to your emotional state.

The cells in my brain that pro­cessed information were hyper­sensitive to noise. As a result, I found the TV and radio to be not only painful, but a drain on my energy. Because I could not make sense of this stimulation, I wanted to be in a quiet place. My caregiv­ers were kind, thoughtful and paid very close attention to my needs. They gave me earplugs so that I could block out sound and we kept the curtains closed to protect my eyes from bright lights. We used a dimmer switch so we could regulate the light in the room and we limited the number of people who were in my room at any time.

Overall, I needed people to treat me as though I could recover. I needed them to bring me their positive energy, treat me as though I were a triumphant survivor and encourage me along my journey.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was young, healthy brain scientist at Harvard Medical School when she suffered a devastating stroke. After eight years of dedicated work, Taylor is completely recovered and teaching at the medical school level. She is a powerful spokesperson for stroke survivors and brain recovery and has authored the national bestseller, My Stroke of Insight.



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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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