When Jill Bolte Taylor was recovering from a severe hemorrhagic stroke at age 37, she says few people truly understood her needs. As a brain scientist, she had extensive knowledge about what those needs were.
“They talked to me incessantly,” she says today, “and what I needed was to sleep and preserve my energy.” One person who instinctively knew how to help her was her caregiver: her mother.
Taylor says when her mother become involved in her care, she allowed her daughter to sleep and to take as long as needed to respond to questions. Later, as she recovered, she challenged Taylor’s brain further with questions that required more than a simple “yes” or “no.”
Joel Stein, M.D., an internist specializing in stroke rehabilitation, explains why sleep and quiet are so integral to stroke survivors. “Scarring on the brain will never heal,” he says, “but what the brain can do to a surprising degree is rewire itself so undamaged parts of the brain take over some of the lost function.”
As stroke survivors travel through those critical rebuilding days, the support and knowledge of a caregiver are vital to their recovery. Here are five ways to be an inspirational and helpful caregiver to someone who has suffered a stroke.
1. Appoint one family member or friend as spokesman.
With one person serving as the point of contact, there is less confusion and disruption in care. With one person responsible for and advocating for the patient everyone can focus on his or her specific role in treatment or recovery.
2. Educate yourself.
One of the best ways to help a stroke patient is to clearly understand what the person is going through. Learn about strokes and the steps to recovery from reputable sources such as the American Stroke Association or the National Stroke Association.
3. Be a source of encouragement.
Celebrate each accomplishment, even the very small ones. Social engagement is vital to recovery. Encourage your loved one to walk, socialize, engage in activities and seek help for depression, if needed.
4. Expect recovery to take time and hard work.
While doctors once believed that most improvements happened within six months, today the timeline has been extended. For some, physical, occupational and speech improvements can appear years after a stroke.
5. Take care of yourself.
An exhausted caregiver has a limited ability to help. Resting, eating healthy foods, exercising and seeing friends are good ways to nurture yourself and in turn enable you to help your loved one recover.
Another resource for stroke survivors and caregivers is Beaufort Memorial’s stroke survivor support group, which meets the third Thursday of every month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The 12-session education series meets in the lobby of the Beaufort Memorial Medical and Administrative Center and covers topics ranging from medication management to helpful home improvements for stroke survivors. For more information, visit beaufortmemorial.org or call (843) 522-5593.