Post-stroke recovery: challenges for the carer
A partner's stroke can turn your life upside down. Our Blue Room psychologist provides some tips on how to deal with the challenges.
When Karen English's husband, Kevin, experienced a stroke while living in Singapore, Karen's initial shock and fear left her wondering what to do next.
Stroke not only affects the survivor – it can also take a toll on those around them. Whether your loved one has experienced health problems in the past, or you have been caught completely by surprise, the shock of a stroke can be overwhelming.
However, there are some steps you can take to help you manage after a loved one has had a stroke.
There’s a lot of new information to take in following a stroke. Medications, doctors’ appointments and rehabilitation options are some of the areas that you'll need to think about. Because every person’s stroke affects them in a unique way, specific outcome predictions are often not available. This can be extremely frustrating for a carer who wants to know how best to help. Many of us don’t realise how much impact a stroke can have, not only physically but also emotionally, so try to learn as much as possible.
As a carer, it can be disheartening when your loved ones’ recovery seems slow, so it’s important to notice and celebrate even the smallest of improvements. Following Kevin’s stroke, his wife Karen devised a creative method of encouraging and motivating his recovery. Videotaping his progress and watching the videos back together during times of doubt or frustration allowed them to see that improvements were actually happening. Keeping a progress record can also help track further improvements.
Dealing with dependence
When a partner suddenly becomes a carer, relationships can be affected. It’s important to remember that your loved one is probably struggling with their new reliance on you, even if they don't openly discuss it.
A stroke survivor’s ability to set goals may be affected, so a carer may need to help with this process and encourage their loved one to work towards them. Celebrating the successes and helping them to become more independent will not only increase their self-esteem, it will also help you see the improvements that have been made.
You can also reach out to your support network, so you don't feel as though you have to do it all alone. An app like Thrivor can help you set tasks that need to be done and appointments that need to be attended, and the friends and family you share this with can easily see how they can pitch in.
The emotional rollercoaster
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One thing that may surprise carers is the emotional rollercoaster their loved one may experience after having a stroke. A survivor may experience emotional instability, characterised by involuntary displays of emotion. This can be confronting for a carer, who may not understand what is happening. Speaking to a neuropsychologist or other stroke health professional can help survivors and carers understand how stroke and emotions are connected.
It's easy to feel isolated as a carer, especially when those around you may not be able to fully understand what you and your loved one are experiencing. Anxiety, fear and depression can follow a stroke, so be on the lookout for signs that you or your loved one might be struggling emotionally. Sleep disturbance, changes in appetite, withdrawal and lack of motivation are some key signs that additional help from a psychologist or other health professional may be needed.
Remember that your own emotional wellbeing is just as is important as your partner's. Remind yourself that it is not selfish to take some time for yourself to replenish and recharge. Join a caregiver support group and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help.