When someone first comes home after their stroke, the experience is new for both you and them. You may not think of yourself as a carer at the beginning. A useful thing to do is inform your GP and the person’s GP that you are now their carer. Doing this should get you advice and help when either of you has to contact the GP.There may be a sense of relief at being at home tinged with apprehension. There is no universal timetable for recovery. Each person is different. Improvements can be made months and years after the stroke has occurred. The following tips may help you to help them with their recovery.
- Follow advice from the professionals both from hospital and community. They are there to guide you.
- Follow the secondary prevention advice. Many people fear having another stroke but if you are following secondary prevention the risk is significantly reduced. Ask if you are in any doubt about what this means for the person you care for. Your GP or stroke nurse or the CHSS helpline will help.
- Support and encourage Encourage the person to do what they can do for themselves. Get the person to use what function they have even if this takes longer or if they have to keep trying to use the affected side. Sometimes caring is not about being too “hands on”. Being there to support and encourage can be just as important.
- Small steps first.. It can be tempting to do too much too soon. Take extra time to do everyday tasks as they will usually require a lot more effort than before. Build up gradually.
- Communicate. Tell each other what you are finding easy and what you are finding difficult. This can help you both to find solutions or alternative ways to try tasks.
- Keep a diary of progress.This can help if the person feels they are not improving as quickly as they feel they should. By making a record of each achievement you can look back over a longer period of time, a month rather than a week and show what they can do now but which was impossible before.
- Adapt and reorganise. Sometimes the solution can only be found by making a change in the house or by learning a new method which is easier. Foe example by placing all the items needed to make a hot drink together on a tray beside the kettle, this involves less bending and reaching if the person has a balance problem. Put a seat or kitchen stool near the sink so they can help with washing up one handed.
- Practice, Practice,Practice.There are usually no quick fix solutions after someone has a stroke. The brain needs time to heal and make new pathways to relearn skills. By repetition these skills can be relearned. Try to build everyday tasks into a routine. As they improve you should reduce the amount for help and let them take over more of the task if it is safe to do so.
- Experiment What works best for both of you. Sometimes a problem can only be solved by trial and error. We all make mistakes when we are learning. Let the person know they can learn something even when one approach or attempt doesn’t work. There is usually an alternative to try.
- Encourage what mobility they have. Exercise is important for physical and mental well being. Decreased movement leads to poor circulation,and limb swelling especially in the legs. Muscles can stiffen, weaken and contract if they are not used. Even if someone can only manage chair based exercises, keep doing them regularly. Better to do something than nothing. Build up gradually. Gentle controlled passive stretching can be done regularly with someone who has limited movement but you must be shown how to do this safely by a health professional or on a manual handling course.
- Watch out for fatigue This applies to both of you. There will be times when the person you care for needs rest periods. Don’t forget you need rest too. Sometimes this is easier said than done especially if you have had to take over all kinds of tasks which they would normally do. Fatigue can build up in you before you realise its effects.
For more information on secondary prevention advice see the section on Topic 1: Stroke cause and effects on secondary prevention on this website.
If the person you care for wants to find out about practical things to do to help them self manage after their stroke then the Self help 4 stroke website contains all kinds of really useful tips and practical tasks to set goals and enjoy life after stroke. It is simple to use and is full of information they can download or print to try at home.