Whether you’ve had a stroke or worry about one coming on, you should know the signs of a possible stroke in progress. You can memorize a list of symptoms, but researchers have come up with an easier way to remember the most important signs of a stroke. They created the acronym FAST, which stands for face, arm, speech, and time. Remembering these four criteria will help you to know if a stroke is in progress. Even if you’ve had one stroke, it is important to know this acronym so that you can judge if a second stroke is affecting you. Secondary strokes are an important and dangerous consideration for stroke patients.
Facial symmetry can tell you a good deal about a person’s well-being. If you’ve had a stroke, you may already have some drooping or facial asymmetry. In an initial stroke, this is a primary sign that the person is having a stroke. You should ask the patient to smile and check if it is even. Have them stick out their tongue and determine if it stays straight or curves to the side. You may also want to survey the face to see if one eye is drooping lower than the other. Even with a secondary stroke, it is possible that the degree of facial drooping can become worse. Examining the face and noticing differences can mean the difference between a mild and severe stroke.
Another place to look for symmetry is in the arms. If you are having a stroke, one arm will be harder to hold up than the other. Even drifting or trending downward can mean that the paralysis is starting to affect the limb. Again, patients who have had a stroke may already have this symptom, but a secondary stroke definitely makes it worse. Have the person hold both arms in front of them and watch for drift or struggling to keep one arm up next to the other. In some cases, the arm may be completely flaccid and unable to move at all, and this is a sign that you need to get help. Arm paralysis is a number one sign of a stroke in progress.
Sometimes when the other symptoms don’t show any changes, you may notice a change in a person’s speech. It is very difficult to talk while having a stroke, and the words can come out slurred or completely garbled. Some stroke survivors have speech symptoms, but caregivers and survivors need to look for a worsening in the situation. Where once you may have been able to speak with a slight slur, a second stroke could make it completely impossible for you to talk. This is a very helpful way to know if you are having a stroke because speech takes a great coordination of muscles. When you are experiencing paralysis, it becomes harder to control those muscles, and that leads to slurred speech.
Finally, time isn’t so much a symptom as it is something that needs to be documented for the medical professionals. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should note down the time they started. If you don’t remember the time they started, at the very least, notice the time that you became aware of them. This is because time is brain when it comes to stroke. The longer the symptoms have been progressing, the worse the severity usually is. In addition, certain medications, such as tPA, can only be used within a certain time frame after a stroke. By knowing the time the symptoms started, medical professionals can determine if they are able to use all of the therapeutic methods at their disposal.
If you notice any of these signs, it is important to get to medical help immediately. Don’t drive yourself or your loved one to the hospital. Call an ambulance, because, as mentioned, time is brain. In an ambulance, a great deal more can be done with a stroke victim, and it is capable of driving faster under emergency circumstances. You don’t have to be completely sure about your diagnosis, either. If you suspect that one or more of these symptoms is appearing, note the time, call an ambulance, and wait with your loved one until help arrives.
Independence after a stroke is important to most patients who have had the condition. Even if you struggle to walk or to partake of the activities of daily living, you still want to be able to do for yourself. One way you can assert your independence is by cooking meals for yourself and others. Of course, this will depend greatly on you level of deficit, but even those who are severely impacted by stroke can find ways to make their own meals. People can certainly do this simple chore for you, but it helps your confidence to be able to be self-sufficient in at least one part of your life.
Safety is one of the most problematic blockages to cooking for yourself. Dealing with fire and the possibilities of burning yourself are real problems and should be addressed. If you have paralysis to any of your limbs, you can very easily burn yourself and not even be aware of it. For this reason, you have to keep track of your paralyzed limb. You should check it frequently during your cooking project to ensure that there are no red spots or blisters. Even taking something from the microwave can potentially cause a burn.
Another consideration is your ability to move about the space and use equipment. Many of the equipment for cooking can be modified to help you use them more efficiently. You will need to consider if you are strong enough to lift a pot or pan. If not, then you may need some help while preparing a meal. Similarly, if you can’t reach items, you may need help. Although you may not achieve total independence in the kitchen, you can still do most of the work of cooking with help at specific spots. This will still give you a great feeling of confidence and self-sufficiency in your life post stroke.
Even if you are in a wheelchair, there are modifications that can be made to kitchens that will allow you to cook. From dropped counters to short stoves, you can reach the appliances from a wheelchair in a modified kitchen. Some modifications are easy, but some are very expensive and not practical. For those who are not in a chair, you can used specialized utensils that allow you to work one handed. Usually, you can get them and learn to use this equipment through your occupational therapist.
Bowls and cups are often a problem as well, but you can modify them by purchasing modified bowls that are resistant to spillage. Cups with handles are another possible modification that can assist you in cooking for yourself. You may even need to use a magnifying glass to get a good look at the instructions on certain packaging. With a little ingenuity and the help of occupational therapy, you should be able to cook meals for yourself. While it is true that you may need a little help with moving heavy objects or reaching appliances, you can do a great deal of the work yourself if you try.
Types of Foods
Any food can be made by a stroke survivor, but there are certain ones that you should be careful of. The microwave is an easy way to make food, but the packaged foods are often high in sodium, which can make your blood pressure too high. In addition, you need to eat low fat to help protect your heart from clots, as well. If you are on Coumadin, you also have to be aware of foods high in vitamin K, such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and other foods.
With post stroke conditions, you may have to prepare foods that are of a particular thickness. Your fluids may have to be mixed with a thickener in order to keep you from inhaling liquid particles. Your food is definitely something that will change. If you have a mechanical soft diet, you will need to stay away from anything that is particularly crunchy or hard to chew. For those who need pureed foods, the use of a blender or food processor may be necessary. Even if you need these modifications, you can still make your food yourself. Follow the rules set down for you by your speech therapist and make your own food the best you can.
Although stroke is often thought of as an older person’s disease, it can happen to people who are quite young. Whether it is from heart problems or a lifestyle that leads to stroke, many young people find themselves facing the consequences of this all too common problem. Even young mothers and fathers with small children can have a stroke, and this can make parenting challenging. However, it is not beyond your capacity to raise your kids and still deal with the consequences of your stroke. Whether you’ve had a mild stroke or something more severe, you can still be a part of your children’s life.
Explaining Limitations to Children
Kids are remarkably adaptable to situations, and they may become better adjusted to your limitations than you are. Your kids love you, and they want to accept that their parents just the way they are. Some limitations may frighten kids, such as facial droop, and this may take some time for them to get used to. You need to explain that it doesn’t change who you are or the love you have for your children. In time, most kids can accept anything when they see Mommy or Daddy doing their best.
You may also have to explain paralysis, wheelchairs, canes, and other problems that come along with stroke. Use simple words, depending on your child’s age, and present them in a non-threatening manner. You can even let them handle any equipment you use so that they see that it is not scary. Some kids will want to know why you had a stroke, and this can be tricky to explain to young kids. Do your best to explain to them the particulars of why you have this condition, but be prepared for the question as your child ages. They will want to know more as they begin to understand more.
Sharing in Your Child’s Life
No matter your limitations, you want to share in your child’s life. This means that you find ways to be there for them, be a presence in their life. No matter what your limitations, you can still find ways to be a part of your child’s life. For instance, many schools and parks are handicapped accessible, and this will allow you to join your child when they play. You should go to school functions, as well, just like any other parent. This will show your child that you care.
One problem you may encounter is the reactions of other children. Your limitations may embarrass your child or elicit remarks from other kids that are not complimentary. When you are alone with your child, explain that sometimes people who are different are treated poorly. It is more a reflection on the child and their upbringing when they say things about a child’s parents. If the teasing becomes a problem, you may want to speak to a teacher or someone higher up in the school about the harassment. Nowadays, bullying is not taken lightly, and you should get some response from the establishment.
Doing What You Can
You have to face your limitations and be realistic after a stroke, but that doesn’t mean you are not able to do anything. It is important to do what you can. Maybe you can’t run around in the park or chase your children, but you can be there for them. Sometimes children need someone who will listen to them, who will accept them unconditionally, and will show them love. Although you have limitations, that doesn’t limit the amount of love that you can show your child.
That isn’t to say that all you can give is love. Stroke survivors, depending on limitations, are often able to go bowling, go to the movies, and have fun at amusement park and carnivals. If you want to be a part of your child’s life post stroke, you have to accept what you can’t do, make it a point to do what you can, and let the rest sort itself out. Your child loves you, and if you do your best to help them understand, you will be surprised at how easy it is to raise a child with stroke limitations. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either, as this is part of accepting your limitations. Sometimes you can’t do what your kids want, but you can arrange for someone to take them where you can’t.
Mobile devices are everywhere these days, and many enterprising entrepreneurs have come up with apps that range from games to lifesaving information packets. Stroke is no exception, and one of the best apps on the market to assess your risk is the app Stroke Riskometer. Not only does this app help you determine if you are at risk for a stroke, but it also has valuable information on common medical problems related to stroke and how to recognize a stroke as it is happening. In addition, the app is free, so it really is a no risk proposition to use this program.
Download and Setup
Installing this app is very easy. You simply go to the app store from your mobile device and plug the name into the search bar. You can use this app on both your iPad and your iPhone, in addition to other devices. When you get to the Stroke Riskometer screen, you can see the specs for the app and the basic information about what the app does. It is 38 MB, so you may want to download it while you are on a WiFi connection instead of 3G to save on data transfer rates.
Once you are sure you are able to download the app, simply press the download button, and the app will be delivered directly to your device. It usually only takes a few moments, and then you are able to use the program. Launch it from your main screen, and you will see the blue background. Overall, the graphics are slick and very professionally done. They make the experience of using the app very pleasant, and it is much easier than some of the online risk assessment tools. If you are familiar with apps, it is definitely worth downloading this one to assess your risk for stroke.
The usage of this app could not be simpler. It will start by asking your age, you sex, and your blood pressure. It’s okay if you don’t know your exact blood pressure, but you should know this information if you are at risk for a stroke. Put in the value that you remember from your last physical. The next questions will ask you about your waist and hip circumference. Most people don’t know this information, but you can easily obtain it with a soft measuring tape. However, the program does allow you to bypass these questions with an “I don’t know” option.
The rest of the questions focus on different medical problems you may have in your history. For instance, it asks if you have atrial fibrillation. This is an important condition when considering stroke, and it will go a long way toward determining your risk. However, some may not know what the condition is. In this case, you can press the help button and it will explain the condition to you. Other questions include lifestyle choices, such as how many fruits and vegetables you eat per day and how much exercise you complete per week.
Once you have completed the test, you will get a very nice looking graphic that details your stroke risk. It looks somewhat like a speedometer, and you can tell your risk by where the needle points on the compass. A great option with this app is that you can email your stroke risk to whomever you want. You can email it to a doctor or nurse, but these connections are often hard to make. It is best to email it to yourself, print it out, and take it along with you when you go to the doctors.
In addition, the Stroke Riskometer also has information on how to recognize stroke when it is happening. It goes over the FAST acronym and tells you what to look for. The F stands for facial drooping. The A stands for arm strength, and the S stands for slurred speech. Finally, the T is a reminder to note the start of the stroke for treatment purposes later on. By using this app, you can quickly and easily assess if you or another person is having a stroke. This app is highly recommended for its professional design, its insightful questions, and its wealth of information.
Atrial Fibrillation, or afib, is a common cause of strokes, and you may not even realize you have it. It is a disorder of the heart that causes the upper chambers to quiver like jelly. When they quiver, they cannot pump blood as effectively, and this can lead to clots. When the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, fibrillate, the person goes into cardiac arrest. The upper chambers, or atria, are not as crucial, but when they do not pump properly, heart problems and stroke can follow. You may have been told that afib is the cause of your stroke, so it is important to know as much about it as possible.
The Connection between Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke
You may wonder how a problem in your heart can lead to a clot in your brain, and you would be right in doing so. When the atria are unable to pump, the blood pools in the chamber, never getting fully ejected. As you may know, whenever blood stands still, it starts to form clots, and these can build up in the atria without your knowledge. At some point, the clot is ejected from the chamber. Either it stops fibrillating momentarily, or the clot is simply pushed through with the rest of the blood.
Once this clot is ejected into the heart, it can go anywhere. In fact, one place it can go is the coronary arteries and cause a heart attack. Another option is for the clot to travel up through the carotid arteries and into the brain, causing a stroke. Either option is a possibility, and neither one is healthy for a patient. Sometimes the clots caused by afib are smaller ones and can lead to less severe strokes. However, long untreated afib can form quite a large clot, and this can lead to severe impairment. Fortunately, afib is treatable.
Most people who have afib don’t realize it, and that’s why a stroke can come seemingly out of nowhere. If you were to take your pulse or have your doctor listen to your heart, you would notice that the beats are out of sync. Afib is an arrhythmia, which means the heart doesn’t beat on the rhythm it is supposed to. At lower rates, it is easy to miss the extra beats that afib sometimes presents as. It is only when you are examined by a doctor that afib can be found.
In some cases, the afib may be rapid. You would feel palpitations in your chest, chest pain, and faintness. This is relatively rare, though, and the slower beats are much more common. With rapid afib, you will experience some severe heart problems, shortness of breath, and other problems that will compel you to visit a doctor. The real problem is the afib that isn’t detectable by symptoms. It is this form of afib that tends to lead to strokes, but even if you have no symptoms, afib needs to be treated.
There are two steps to treating afib. One is anticoagulation and one is rate control. When you have a stroke, you are going to need anticoagulation therapy, anyway, regardless of the reason you had the stroke. This means that you will be placed on heparin in the hospital and then slowly introduced to Coumadin or warfarin. The medication takes a little while to become therapeutic, and you will need to get regular blood tests to ensure that it stays in the safe range. Failure to check you warfarin level could mean that another clot forms and leads to a secondary stroke.
The second prong of afib treatment is rate control. Medications, such as Cardizem and Amiodarone, can help to control rapid afib and sometimes convert the rhythm to normal. In some cases, your cardiologist may want to do everything possible to convert the rhythm, and this means that a cardioversion may be attempted. Under sedation, the heart is shocked to attempt to restore normal function. It isn’t always successful. Another way to treat this rhythm is to have an ablation done. This is usually conducted through a cardiac catheterization, and it centers on cauterizing the cells in the heart that are causing the bad rhythm. This is usually an outpatient or short stay procedure, using only small access through the artery that runs in the groin.
One of the most common side effects from stroke is dysphagia, but it may be difficult to understand if you’ve never heard the term before. Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing. To swallow, your muscles and throat must complete a complex set of maneuvers to protect your windpipe and allow the food or liquid to make it into the esophagus and stomach.
When you have a stroke, some of the nerves that control this function no longer work, and this means that your windpipe has no protection from incoming foreign objects. Dysphagia can affect stroke victims with varying severity, but it is important to always follow swallowing precautions when you have this condition.
Testing and Screening
Before leaving the hospital, most stroke survivors will be tested for swallowing difficulties. In fact, they may be NPO, or nothing by mouth, until the test has been performed, and this can be frustrating for stroke patients. If they were to eat or drink something, however, the food could go into the lungs and cause a severe case of pneumonia. In addition, choking and coughing can block off the airway, leading to respiratory arrest. There are many risks involved in eating or drinking outside of the dysphagia rules for your particular condition.
The test for dysphagia is performed like an x-ray. Usually, a speech therapist will evaluate you and then will look at the results of the test. It is generally called a cookie swallow, although it may have other names. In essence, the stroke survivor takes a bite of a piece of cookie, chews it, and swallows. While this is performed, special moving x-rays are taken that watch the mechanism of swallowing. It is from this test that the speech therapist determines what level of dysphagia precautions a stroke survivor needs.
There are a number of risks associated with dysphagia. The most immediate risk is of choking. In fact, eating or drinking items outside the dysphagia plan can lead to a completely blocked airway, the need for the Heimlich maneuver, and possibly respiratory arrest. Although some stroke survivors hate their dysphagia restrictions, the risks of disobeying them are quite severe and can even lead to death if the piece of food is unable to be dislodged. At the very best, it could lead to a scary moment for everyone involved as the food or drink is cleared. At worst, it can mean a trip to the hospital and the intensive care unit.
Another, less immediate, risk of dysphagia is pneumonia. Large pieces of food cause choking, but it is the small pieces and the bits of fluid that can cause pneumonia. This risk factor can sneak up on a stroke survivor who thinks they are getting away with not following their dysphagia precautions. The introduction of foreign material into the lungs means that infection can begin to brew. These infections are often very difficult to treat and can lead to another stay in the hospital. It is easier, safer, and much more convenient to just follow the dysphagia protocols.
Unfortunately, the only treatments for dysphagia are the precautions that are outlined by your speech therapist. You will have two precautions to follow: one for liquid and one for food. Your liquids will be made in a thicker consistency, depending on how severe your swallowing problem is. It can be anywhere from nectar – which is just a little thicker than water – to pudding thickness. Sometimes this can discourage a stroke survivor because it is difficult to quench the thirst with thickened liquids. In some cases, you can substitute lemon ice to help aide in swallowing and help quench that feeling of thirst.
Similarly, your foods will have to be prepared in a special way, depending on your ability to swallow. Most stroke victims are able to use mechanical soft precautions. This generally means that you can’t have anything that requires a great deal of chewing. At the extreme, pureed foods are for those that have a severe problem swallowing. Again, these restrictions can frustrate the survivor who is unable to eat the foods they want. If you have a severe swallowing problem, though, you have to weigh the indulgence in foods against the risk of winding up in the hospital again. Usually, with some creativity, even a pureed diet can be made to be palatable and tasty. Don’t give up on your precautions if you are frustrated, but find ways to make them work for you.
When you are trying to live with your new abilities post stroke, it may get you down. In fact, depression is a common side effect of a stroke, so it is important to focus on keeping your spirits up and monitoring for any signs of clinical depression. You may not feel much like laughing or enjoying life anymore, but that is only going to make matters worse. Like any other rehabilitation, you need to work with your mood to increase your happiness factor. You need to find a way to keep the depression at bay with a few simple tools.
Family and Friends
Isolation can make you feel worse than the stroke itself. Even if you are taken care of by family, you still need to get out and see your own friends. Stroke support groups are great for this sort of social interaction, and even some internet support groups can help with feeling your best. It may be difficult to get family to spend time if their schedules are hectic, but strive to find ways for them to get together. Also, look up old friends from before your stroke and get together with them. Sometimes, people think they are being bothersome when you really want the company. Do what you can to connect with people, friends, family, and support group participants.
So much of post stroke therapy focuses on what you are not able to do. It can feel like you can’t do anything, and that can be depressing. You need to change your focus onto the things that you can do. Very few strokes take all abilities, and you may still be able to do quite a bit that other stroke survivors cannot. In addition, as you rehab, you will gain skills that you may have thought were completely lost to you. The trick is to focus on an attitude of gratitude. You will feel better if you are thankful for the skills and the positive things in your life that you do have. Focusing on the negative will only lead to more negativity and sadness.
Funny Stories and Jokes
The world is full of things to make you laugh. Lose yourself in a silly television comedy. Read the funny pages, and look up jokes on the internet. By allowing yourself to laugh and seeking out comedy, you give yourself permission to feel good again. Maybe you have a favorite movie that always makes you smile or maybe you like telling jokes. It is important to tap into the humor that makes you human again. It may have been ages since you laughed, and that can keep your spirits low. Make a point every day to find something amusing and laugh about it. Even if it is silly, it will help to improve your mood.
Getting Out and About
In addition to getting out with friends and family, you need to get out of your house. Even if it is just a walk around the block, getting out will help to improve your spirits. You should try to go on as many day trips as possible, especially those that are through stroke survivor groups. Again, isolation can make you feel sadder about your situation, and getting out of the house allows you to focus on something else. You need to get away from the daily grind, like a mini vacation, to allow your mind the chance to rest. If mobility is a problem for you, discuss going on trips with your caregivers. Many places are handicapped accessible now, and that means that anyone can enjoy a trip to the mall, the park, or the movies.
When You Need Help
When does sadness become depression? It is actually very easy to tell when simple sadness leads to a clinical problem. Most people will feel down for an extended period, usually more than two weeks. You will experience a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, and these make you feel even worse. The above mentioned tips will not help you to move from your depression, either. One of the most severe signs is a willingness to die, suicidal thoughts, or giving up on life. If you feel any of these emotions, then you could very well have clinical depression. The good news is that depression is very treatable. It isn’t a character flaw, but a chemical imbalance in the brain, usually brought on by the stroke. Don’t hesitate to ask for medications to help you regain your happiness and enjoy life again.
The amount of medications prescribed after a stroke can be staggering. Not only is it imperative to keep your blood pressure under control, but it is of the utmost importance to control your cholesterol, as well. Cholesterol can cause plaques on the sides of arteries that can either decrease the size of the lumen or break off and block the artery deeper into the brain. In either case, high cholesterol is a large risk factor for a secondary stroke.
To understand the medications, it helps to understand a little about cholesterol. Three different types of cholesterol are talked about when you are trying to reduce your numbers. LDLs or low-density lipoproteins should be as low as you can manage to make them. HDL or high-density lipoproteins are considered helpful cholesterol and should be as high as you can manage. Triglycerides are a special subset of cholesterol, and most medications aim to make them lower. All medications affect these three metrics on some level, but some are more impactful than others are.
Statins are the most popular drug type used to reduce cholesterol levels. In fact, they are among the most prescribed medications in the world. Some examples include Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin), and Zocor (simvastatin), although there are many others. These drugs work by lowering both the LDLs and the triglycerides. Unfortunately, they do not have much of an effect on HDLs. Muscle pain and weakness are the primary problems with statins. It can lead to a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, but this is a very rare side effect. However, simple muscle pain is quite common, and some herbal supplements, such as Coenzyme Q10, have been studied for their use in blocking this side effect.
Bile Acid Binding Resins
Bile acid binding resins are not used as often as statins, but they are still helpful in lowering LDLs. If you find that you are not getting the therapeutic effect of the statins or the muscle pain is just too great, then these drugs may help. Some examples include Colestid (colestipol) and
Questran (cholestyramine/ sucrose). Usually, the side effects tend toward GI upset, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but one troubling effect is that it can raise triglycerides. If you take this medication, you may need to take a supplemental one to control this metric and possibly one to help raise HDLs.
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor
Another common medication prescribed for cholesterol is the cholesterol absorption inhibitor, the only one of which is Zetia (ezetimibe). As with the other medications, this drug tends to significantly affect LDLs and can lower them well. Unfortunately, it only has minor actions on HDLs and triglycerides. This is why diet and exercise are important in cholesterol management to help these other metrics become therapeutic. Vytorin is a combination drug of this medication and simvastatin. Both drugs together can really improve LDLs, and the side effects of Zetia are nearly identical to the statins.
While other medications are great at lowering LDLs, fibrates are specialists in raising HDLs and lowering triglycerides. For this reason, they are often prescribed with the statins, or possibly Vytorin, for LDLs that are far from therapeutic. A few examples of fibrates include Lopid (gemfibrozil) and TriCor (fenofibrate). Very rarely are these medications taken without a drug for LDLs, and this may help you understand your treatment plan with a bit more clarity. Nausea and stomach pain can be side effects of this medication, but the one that causes the most concern is gallstones. If your gallbladder has been removed, then you need not worry about this, but stomach pain in the right upper quadrant can indicate that you have this serious condition.
A supplement that is often used in controlling cholesterol is vitamin B3 or niacin. While you could dose yourself with niacin over the counter, more potent and more reliable preparations are available via prescription. Niacin can help to decrease LDLs, decrease triglycerides, and increase HDLs, making it an all-around stand out in the cholesterol medication puzzle. Some patients do experience side effects, particularly flushing around the face and neck. Vomiting, diarrhea, blood sugar spikes, and peptic ulcers are also a possibility, although they are not generally seen. This supplement is also combined with lovastatin to produce Advicor. Taking this combination can attack the cholesterol metrics on all fronts and reduce your intake to one medication.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids, found primarily in fish, have shown great promise in decreasing cholesterol levels. While many patients simply increase their food intake of this nutrient, it is not often enough to control significantly increased cholesterol metrics. Some patients take supplements of omega-3 fatty acids over the counter, but this can often lead to large pills, confusion on how much to take, and questions over the potency of the supplement. For this reason, there are currently two prescription preparations of this supplement: Lovaza and Vascepa (Icosapent ethyl). What many patients don’t realize is that this supplement really only lowers triglycerides. You may need other medications to handle the other metrics. Side effects are rare and mild, such as a fishy aftertaste, belching, and rarely an increased risk of infection.
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.
A stroke can explode into the life of a family like a nuclear bomb. First, you have the worry over your loved one’s health, if they will even survive. Once they are stabilized, you begin to worry about what their life will be like post-stroke, what changes it will mean for them. Lastly, you start to worry about what those changes will mean for your own life. Whether your loved one is a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a child, you will have to develop a way to deal with the results of this devastating condition.
Nearly every stroke survivor needs a caregiver. From those with minor deficits to those who need total care, someone has to step up and act as the caregiver for the stroke survivor. This is a person who monitors the health of the survivor, helps them cope with their limitations, and provides assistance as needed. Some people don’t even have to think about becoming their loved one’s caregiver, but this would be a mistake. Everyone who faces the challenge of caring for a stroke survivor should consider the choice they are making. Without reflection and conscious choosing, you may feel burdened, and that’s unhealthy for both you and your loved one.
Evaluating Your Loved One’s Needs
Your first consideration in taking on the role of caregiver is your loved one’s needs. Some stroke survivors involve expert care that requires equipment and medical knowledge. On the other hand, some stroke survivors only need help with speech and preparing meals. Most stroke survivors fall somewhere on this continuum, and this is why you need to fully evaluate what they need. Sometimes, you just cannot provide what they need. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be their caregiver. It only means that you will need help in taking care of your loved one.
When you evaluate your loved one’s needs, you have to question whether you will be able to keep them safe and healthy. If they are a fall risk and you have multiple floors in your home, you may find that you don’t have the ability to care for them adequately. Often, this is where in home health care and nursing home facilities are considered. Although many caregivers swear they will take care of their loved one no matter what, you have to consider if your care is the safest, best care they can get. You don’t want your loved one to suffer more harm because their care is simply beyond your ability.
Evaluating yourself may be the hardest part of deciding to be a caregiver. Some people, when faced with a sick loved one, strong-arm themselves into the role of caring because they feel it is their duty. Or maybe they feel that they love the person and loving means sacrifice. The problem with either line of thinking is that they are not sustainable. Duty will eventually turn to resentment and poor care. Pure love will eventually lead to depression and despair when you find you are not cut out for the role that you have taken on.
If your loved one needs care, you need to seriously look at yourself. What is your life like? Do you have children, a job, a house to run? Are you not a very patient person? Are you someone who doesn’t understand or cannot stomach the realities of medical care? All of these are important considerations when determining if you should be the caregiver. It is not selfish to examine yourself and find that you simply do not have the skills. No matter how much you may want to be the caregiver your loved one needs, you may just not be capable of taking care of them, no matter how hard you try. Save yourself and your loved one a great deal of heartache by recognizing this before taking on responsibilities that you are not equipped to handle.
Making the Choice
Making this choice is not easy. You have to weigh the responsibility and skills you need against your time and temperament. In some ways, you have to look at what would be the best course for your loved one. Would they benefit more from you caring for them in the home or from someone else in a facility providing the bulk of the care? Many family members make promises about nursing homes, but these are not often realistic when the stroke occurs. Some people don’t realize the constant, high-pressure care that may come from caring for a severely disabled stroke survivor.
As the caregiver, you have to make the best choice for your loved one. You should also be aware that nursing homes are not the only option out there. In home care, adult day care, and respite care are all possibilities that may help you care for your loved one and still get help. The most important point to recognize is that you do not have to face the problem alone. You also need to quickly jettison feelings of guilt over needing help. Your loved one may be a complex case that even trained professionals struggle to care for. If you are not up to the task, the best form of help you can give your loved one is to know your limitations. That way, both you and your loved one will be healthy, safe, and happy.
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