As we age, medical conditions become more common. Finding out that your elderly mother or father has had a stroke can be a scary experience. An interruption in the blood supply to the brain causes the stroke. Strokes are common medical emergencies, affecting 200,000 Americans every year. They primarily happen in those age 60 and older, although anyone of any age can suffer a stroke.
Strokes can cause paralysis in the face, arms, and legs, making it difficult to walk or talk. They can also cause confusion, blurry vision, and dizziness.
While many people eventually recover from a stroke, it can be fatal in some cases. Because each situation is different, there are no set guidelines for recovery. Your loved one’s doctor will be able to give you a prognosis based on the severity of the stroke and amount of damage to the brain.
You will need patience. Stroke recovery can be a slow process. Just when you think your loved one is making headway, he or she may suffer a setback. While disappointing, you need to think positively and keep moving forward.
Starting Recovery in the Hospital
After a stroke, doctors will waste no time trying to get your loved one back up and moving around like he or she once did. Therefore, expect recovery to start as soon as 24 hours after the stroke. Your family member will still be in the hospital, and, when their health is stable, they’ll start with getting out of the bed and into a chair.
Nurses and therapists will help your loved one regain function and strength. Recovery will depend on which side of the brain was affected, how much of the brain was damaged, and their general health before the stroke. If they were healthy before the stroke, then they will recover more quickly. If they struggled with health issues before the stroke, recovery will be more challenging.
Staying in the Home
Once they’re released from the hospital, most stroke patients can return home, especially if they were healthy before the stroke. However, returning home may not be a good idea if there were some complications that cannot be handled at home. If this is the case, then a stay in a rehab facility or nursing home for a temporary period may be a good idea.
If your loved one does get to come home, however, it’s a good idea to have some modifications in place. You may even want to stay with your loved one for the next few days or so to make sure he or she is adjusting well.
There is special equipment that can make your loved one’s life easier. If he or she is having trouble walking, a walker or wheelchair can help with mobility. If your family member was affected on one side, a brace or special mattress can make things more comfortable. You can get these items from medical supply companies. Your doctor can help with equipment rentals and purchases.
Strokes may cause permanent damage, so it’s possible that your loved one will no longer move as well as he or she once did. Memory and thought processes are disrupted, so don’t be surprised if your loved one can’t remember the day of the week or even your name. He or she may also be unable to follow simple commands or answer questions. This can be frustrating for you, but it’s part of the recovery process.
You can help your family member by using a large calendar to keep track of appointments. Purchase a medicine holder that keeps track of medications for each day of the week. Place notes in various areas of the home to serve as reminders. Be patient when asking questions. Talk slowly and ask one thing at a time. Keep conversations simple and allow ample time for response.
Ideally, you or another family member will be able to care for your loved one during recovery. If you live far away and can’t be around much after your parent’s stroke, you may want to consider 24 hour in home care during your loved one’s recovery. A caregiver can come in and assist your loved one with medications, meals, and bathing. You can hire someone full-time or just for several days a week. This will allow your elderly family member to get the help he or she needs without having to go into a nursing home.
Many patients refuse to go into a nursing home, so this keeps your loved one at home where he or she is most comfortable. It also prevents you from taking care of your own obligations, since you likely have a career and family of your own. In home care services – at least as a temporary solution – can give you peace of mind. It’s well worth it, so don’t be resistant to asking for help.
The goal is to minimize brain damage and prevent future strokes. Therefore, your family member will likely be given medications, supportive care, therapy, and other forms of care to assist with recovery.
Tissue plasminogen activators such as Activase break up clots that are affecting blood flow. Blood thinners such as Warfarin keep clots from forming. Lipitor and Crestor are statins that help lower cholesterol. Avapro can help lower blood pressure, while ACE inhibitors such as Prinivil and Zestril treat heart failure and lower the risk of death following cardiac arrest. Any combination of these drugs can lower the risk of your loved one developing another stroke.
When your loved one is given medications, make sure you understand how to use them correctly. This is important because an overdose can be deadly, and too little of a dose can delay recovery. Be proactive and ask your doctor about what the medicine does, how often it should be taken, when it should be taken, if there are any side effects and what to do if a dose is skipped. Then make sure your family member takes the medicine exactly as prescribed.
Whether your loved one must stay in the hospital or gets to come home after a few days, he or she will likely be put on cardiac monitoring. This involves the use of a device that monitors heart rate and rhythm. This will alert the doctor to any issues that could signal another stroke or other serious medical issue.
In some cases, stroke patients may undergo surgery. Carotid endarterectomy is a type of surgery that removes plaque in the carotid arteries, which are found in the neck.
Because a stroke damages the brain, patients may have to undergo various forms of therapy in order to relearn various skills. Rehabilitation helps retrain various pathways in the brain to help improve functioning in various areas, like how to walk and talk. Speech therapy can help patients speak more clearly and stop slurring words. Occupational therapy helps with skills needed for daily living, while physical therapy helps patients gain muscle strength.
Recovery will likely require the assistance of multiple specialists. A neurologist, neurosurgeon, physical therapist, speech therapist, nutritionist, and primary care physician should all work in tandem to help provide the best care possible for your loved one.
After a stroke, your loved one may experience weakness on one side of the body. This can make it difficult to walk and grab objects.
A stroke can also cause joint and muscle stiffness. Shoulders and arms can freeze up if left sedentary for too long, so encourage loved ones to keep moving their limbs. If your loved one suffers from muscle spasms, injections can help. Pain and numbness in the arms and legs are also common.
Your family members may also experience sensory impairments. He or she may not be able to feel things that are touched, or feel whether or not something is hot or cold. Problems with eating and swallowing are also common.
Your loved one could experience urinary and bowel issues. He or she may not be able to hold urine for too long or empty the bladder completely. He or she may feel like going to the bathroom constantly or have incontinence issues only at night. Constipation and issues with bowel control are also common. While embarrassing, these issues are often temporary.
To deal with incontinence, have your loved one wear adult diapers. Keep waterproof sheets under bed sheets to prevent soiling the bed while sleeping. You can also place these sheets on furniture and other places where the patient frequently sits. Keep extra sets of clothes with you at all times, especially when traveling.
When a stroke causes damage to the left side of the brain, the result can be issues with speech and language. Talking, writing, and communicating can be challenging.
Focus and memory are also affected. It can be hard for your loved one to follow instructions, perform complex tasks, or learn new things.
Emotional problems may also be present, especially depression. A stroke takes away some of the abilities that your loved one once had. This can be depressing for him or her. Depression is a serious condition that needs to be treated promptly, so be aware of the signs. They may include sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, a lack of energy, insomnia, changes in weight and appetite, restlessness, irritability, thoughts of death, or suicide attempts.
Those who have suffered from one stroke are more likely to suffer another one. Therefore, it’s important to follow good prevention measures. One healthy tip is to quit smoking. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your heart. If your loved one smokes, convince him or her to quit.
Proper nutrition is also important. Your loved one will need to eat foods that are healthy for the heart. This means foods low in fat and cholesterol. Avoid fatty meats and greasy foods. Instead, choose fruits, vegetables, whole-wheat grains, and nuts. Portion size should also be limited. Your doctor will be able to implement the right diet.
Exercise is also essential. It helps reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lose weight. Plus, exercising sets off endorphins that will make your loved one feel happier. However, your loved one will likely be limited to what he or she can do in terms of movement. Ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist who can assess your loved one’s mobility. He or she will be able to create an exercise program tailored to your loved one.
You will likely need to see multiple doctors for follow-up appointments. Be sure to keep these appointments, as these are vital to your loved one’s recovery. At these visits, the doctors can see how well your family member is recovering. If there are any health concerns, they can be managed before another stroke hits – and pushes back recovery even more.
Ask the doctor about signs and symptoms of strokes. The warning signs are not always the same, so your loved one may not have the same symptoms next time. By being aware, you can get early medical help in the event that you notice something’s not right.
Join a support group. Search online or ask your doctor about groups in your area. Meet other stroke survivors and their families so you have someone to go to when you need help. These people have been through the same thing you have, so they can offer support and advice when you’re feeling down.
Dealing with a loved one’s stroke can be frustrating. By knowing what to expect and getting help from your network of medical professionals, you’ll be able to face the challenges that lie ahead directly and help your loved one recover more quickly.