According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), around 100,000 people suffer from stroke every year in the UK.
A stroke can cause a wide range of long-term physical and mental effects as a result of injury to the brain. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to feel fearful or overwhelmed at the thought of caring for someone who’s recovering from stroke.
With this in mind, we’ve put together seven tips to help you navigate this journey.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts (haemorrhagic stroke) or is blocked by a clot (ischaemic stroke). Both types of stroke cut off blood supply to the brain.
There are also transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) – otherwise known as mini-strokes. These are the result of temporary disruption in blood flow to the brain. While symptoms usually resolve themselves within 24 hours, a TIA is often a precursor to a full-blown stroke and should never be ignored.
What causes a stroke?
- Family history – if a close relative (parent, grandparent, brother, or sister) of yours has had a stroke.
- Medical history – if you’ve previously had a stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or heart attack.
- Medical conditions – including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Ethnicity – those of African, Caribbean, or south Asian heritage may be at higher risk – partly due to higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these groups.
- Lifestyle factors – such as smoking, heavy drinking, and obesity.
What are some of the effects of stroke?
- Physical problems – which might include muscle weakness, paralysis, stiffness, or changes in sensation (usually on one side of the body). This can cause issues like struggling to walk, swallow, or move your arms.
- Trouble communicating – around one-third of stroke survivors have difficulty speaking, writing, reading, and understanding what others are saying to them.
- Tiredness and fatigue – this affects the majority of stroke survivors and can make it difficult to take part in everyday activities.
- Cognitive problems – a stroke can change the way the brain understands, organises, and stores information. This can affect memory, concentration, and problem solving skills.
- Emotional changes – a stroke can be a sudden and shocking experience and lead to issues like anxiety, depression, and frustration.
- Behavioural changes – damage to the brain or the emotional stress caused by stroke can sometimes lead to changes in behaviour, such as anger, aggression, and lack of motivation.
7 tips for caring for someone after stroke
The physical, cognitive, and mental effects of stroke can make adjusting to life after having a stroke very difficult and emotional for survivors.
But as a carer, there are a few things that you can do to help support people through these changes and make day-to-day life that little bit easier.
Below are a few ideas.
1. Learn as much as you can about the effects of stroke
Because stroke can cause a wide range of long-term physical and mental health issues, one of the biggest challenges for caregivers can be a lack of knowledge or understanding of the condition.
While everyone’s experience of stroke is different, making yourself aware of some of the most common effects of stroke and taking the time to understand how they can impact a person’s life may help you to cope better in your role as a caregiver.
For instance, reading up on how stroke can impact a person’s mental wellbeing will enable you to better understand and handle any emotional outbursts.
You can read an in-depth overview of the effects of stroke and recovery on the NHS website.
2. Work with them to progress their rehabilitation
The secondary effects of stroke such as muscle weakness, paralysis, and communication problems mean that survivors often have to take part in rehabilitation.
The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help a person relearn the skills they ‘ve lost. Depending on the nature and severity of symptoms, the process may include help from specialists like physiotherapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, and occupational therapists.
Patients are encouraged to actively participate in the rehabilitation process both in and outside of the therapy room. And since science has revealed that continuously repeating actions is the best way to stimulate the brain to recover and relearn a skill, taking the time to help the person you’re caring for practise their exercises at home can make all the difference.
This guide, 10 tips on how to stay committed to stroke recovery at home, from Neofact, offers useful tips on how to stay on track with progress – including setting goals, following a routine, and finding fun ways to perform stroke therapy.
3. Offer emotional support
Many stroke survivors experience feelings of grief or loss for the life and independence they had before they had a stroke.
Learning to accept the changes caused by stroke can be very difficult and quite often manifests in feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. In fact, research shows that more than 50% of stroke victims suffer from depression within the year after their stroke.
Therefore, being there to offer emotional support and remind someone that they’re not alone can help to reduce – or at least manage – the emotional impact of these changes.
For example, if the timing’s right, you could encourage them to speak to you about how they’re feeling and to discuss if there’s anything you can do to help make things easier for them. According to the Mental Health Foundation, opening up is one of the most important ways to help someone feel more supported and less alone.
For a more in-depth look at the emotional impacts of strokes and what can be done to manage it, visit the Stroke Association website.
4. Learn new ways to communicate where necessary
The long-term communication problems caused by stroke can be emotional for many people and their families, because they may not be able to communicate in the same way that they used to.
As a result, adapting to any new needs a person may have can make a huge difference in improving how they feel about themselves.
For instance, depending on symptoms, learning to speak a bit slower, be more facially expressive, use gestures, and directly facing the person can help to remove some of the barriers to communication. Writing, drawing, and using a computer communication system can also help in some cases.
You can find out more about communication problems after stroke, including treatments to help and organisations offering support, on the Stroke Association website.
5. Be mindful about changes to mood and behaviour
As a result of brain damage or the emotional impact of stroke, it’s not uncommon for someone to seem as though they’ve had a change in personality or to appear irrational at times.
Anger, aggression, resentment, apathy (lack of motivation), and inappropriate behaviour are all common behavioural changes following stroke. And unfortunately as someone’s carer, it’s not unusual for these mood changes and behaviour to be directed towards you.
While this can be upsetting, as much as possible, it’s important to try and not take it personally. Advice from the Stroke Association says that while symptoms like apathy require a great deal of patience, things like planning the day in advance and sticking to regular routines can also help.
However, if behaviour gets out of hand or you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to not to suffer in silence and seek help from a GP. They’ll be able to assess possible causes and advise treatments for the person – such as talking therapy or counselling.
It’s also worth remembering that while some changes will be long-term, as the stroke rehabilitation and recovery process continues, many people often begin to return to their old self.
For more information on changes to behaviour following stroke and how to navigate them, you can visit the Stroke Association website.
6. Celebrate their progress, no matter how small
After a stroke, it’s natural for someone to have only the end goal as reverting to their old selves in mind. But the truth is that every case is different, and there’s no set pattern for recovering from a stroke.
Research also shows that progress in the earlier stages of stroke rehabilitation can be faster than later on. As a result, it’s important to celebrate each success along the way – no matter how small – in order to boost motivation and help the person you’re caring for continue working towards their goals.
7. Remember to take care of yourself too
It can be easy to absorb a fair amount of secondhand stress when caring for a stroke survivor and, as the caregiver, many people tend to internalise these challenges and struggles. But this can lead to even more difficulties in the long run.
While the majority of your focus will be on the person recovering from stroke, it’s also important to take time for yourself and make sure you’re looked after too.
This includes spending time exploring your hobbies and interests, clearing your mind, and breathing. After all, you can only be the best carer when your own physical and mental health is looked after too.
For information on where to seek help and support, you might find this list of support resources for carers on the Stroke Association website helpful. Carers UK also have a help and advice page which has information on everything from caring for a parent to getting extra care and support.
In addition, it might be worth getting a carer’s assessment through your local council. This will assess things that could make your caring role easier – including home equipment, information about local support groups, and respite care. You could also check your eligibility for Carer’s Allowance, which is a payment of £67.60 per week to spend as you wish.
What support is available for those affected by stroke?
- Stroke Association offers a Stroke Helpline and free ‘My Stroke Guide’ full of easy-to-read information, advice, and support videos for anyone affected by stroke. You can also search for Stroke Association support services in your local area – including in-person and online support groups. Simply enter your postcode and search for support services near you here.
- Think Ahead Stroke supports stroke survivors and their carers – including a mentoring programme for the early days after stroke.
- The Stroke Network is a registered charity that offers 24/7 online support worldwide through forums, chat rooms, online resources, and general information. The website also acts as a landing page for a number of smaller stroke organisations.
- Different Strokes is an organisation run by people who have personal experience of stroke. You can enter your postcode to find a support group near you.
- Headway is a brain injury association that offers online support for people who have brain damage – including from a stroke.
A stroke can greatly impact a person’s life, and as a carer, it can sometimes feel as though you have an overwhelming task on your hands.
However, learning to offer emotional support, celebrate small successes, and taking time for yourself can make a huge difference to both you, and the person you’re caring for.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and there’s support available if you need it.