When you decide to become your loved ones caregiver following their stroke, you are taking on a great deal of responsibility. Whether they live in your house, their own house, or a facility, you need to know what possible problems to watch out for when someone recovers from a stroke. Even in a nursing facility, some of these issues may be overlooked as staff do not know your loved one as well as you do. Caregivers are vitally important in the care and recovery of stroke survivors, regardless of where they reside.
However, much more responsibility is yours when your loved one lives with you or lives independently. When a stroke is over, that isn’t the whole story, and other problems can arise from the stroke survivor’s deficits or medical history. You, as a caregiver, need to educate yourself on the basics of stroke rehabilitation and treatment to fully help your loved one achieve their best. You don’t need to be a medical professional, but you do need to watch out for these four important considerations for stroke survivors.
Your first concern for any stroke survivor is to check their physical safety. In nursing homes, you should determine if there is enough care staff, if the floors are free of clutter, and if they are able to get around without the risk of falling. Falling after a stroke is an enormous problem, and it can lead to further complications that may further debilitate your loved one. Many nursing homes have policies in place to prevent falls, but you should do your part, too, in ensuring they are safe.
At home, the problem becomes more complex. You have to ensure that your loved one can safely carry out the activities of daily living. This includes cooking, toileting, and bathing – the three problem areas that tend to cause falls. If they live on their own, it helps to watch them perform these activities. If they live with you, you need to supervise them during any activity in which they could fall. Even crossing the room could be hazardous if the floor clearance isn’t available. You have to think ahead to ensure that your stroke survivor remains as safe as possible.
Depression is very common in stroke survivors, and it is more likely they will have it than not. Sometimes the depression arises from grief over the loss of function. If your loved one’s independence is severely hampered by their deficits, they can fall into a depression. However, strokes themselves can alter brain chemistry and create depression even if the loss of function isn’t present. For instance, a stroke survivor with mild impairments is still at risk for depression due to chemical changes in the brain from the insult.
Knowing the signs of depression is half the battle in treating it. Sadness that lasts for more than two weeks or a funk that just won’t lift are signs that it may be setting in. Hopelessness and helplessness are other signs that indicate your loved one is giving up. Feeling like there is no use in trying to follow their medical regimen or expressing that they wish they were dead are more severe signs of depression. Fortunately, this mood condition responds very well to treatment. In addition to antidepressants, your loved one may benefit from talk therapy and discussing how the stroke has impacted their lives. It isn’t a sign of personal weakness to have depression. It is a condition like the stroke itself that has recognizable symptoms and effective treatments.
The risk of a second stroke after an initial insult is quite high. In many cases, the second stroke is often more devastating than the first one, injuring more brain tissue, and causing more severe deficits. For this reason, it is important to do everything possible to prevent a second stroke. This means paying close attention to the medications, diet, and rehabilitation of your loved one. Medications can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and these can reduce the incidence of further stroke.
Diet is important, as well, because many foods increase blood pressure and cholesterol. Following a DASH diet should be a priority for you as a caregiver to help control blood pressure and keep your loved one healthy. Exercise in the form of rehabilitation is important, as well, as this can often help lower blood pressure and cholesterol organically. It is important to be aware of the signs of a stroke – facial droop, slurred speech, and one-sided weakness – that indicate a second one is underway. If your loved one already has some of these symptoms, you need to look for new symptoms or worsening of their current deficits.
Related Medical Problems
Other medical problems are often concurrent with strokes. For instance, many strokes are caused by diabetes, and getting this condition under control can help to reduce secondary strokes. In addition, diabetes can cause further health issues, such as blindness and kidney disease, that can make a stroke survivor’s care far more complicated. If diabetes is in the mix, you need to ensure that the blood sugar is kept within normal limits and a diabetic diet is followed.
Heart and cardiovascular disease are also common in stroke patients. If cholesterol caused a blockage in the brain, it stands to reason that one could occur in the heart, as well. For this reason, it is important to keep track of your stroke survivor’s cardiovascular health. You should be prepared for a possible heart attack and watch them for the presence of clots in their legs or lungs. Heart disease is a primary problem in the population at large, but stroke survivors are at even greater risk due to their history of clots, problems with blood pressure, and general state of decreased health. Stroke survivors need to be treated holistically to avoid problems with other, comorbid conditions.