Stroke is an incredibly challenging process for not only the survivor, but for the entire family. Even the most committed families can have misunderstandings and make mistakes when it comes to their loved one’s recovery. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a renowned neuroanatomist and brain researcher who shares her experience of her own stroke in her book My Stroke of Insight. In her book, Dr. Taylor shares a number of things she wished her family could understand about her recovery process. Here are some of the things she, and many other stroke survivors, wish they could tell their loved ones.
- Be patient with me, not matter how many times you’ve shown me how to do something. Recovering from a stroke means that a survivor will need to relearn so many things as if the first time, including life skills they had known for years. Don’t lose patience with your loved one as they need shown how to do something just one more time.
- I’m not stupid, I’m wounded. Your loved one may struggle with once-familiar tasks and language, but a stroke does not affect their intelligence. The brain needs time to relearn how to find the right words again, just like someone with a spinal cord injury needs to relearn how to walk once more. Treat your loved one with respect.
- I can’t handle as many distractions as I used to, so please protect my energy. The brain needs stimulation to recover from a stroke, but too much stimulation can be a bad thing. A survivor may not be able to filter out distractions as well as they used to, and trying to ignore background noise, nervous body language, and other distractions can be draining and take away from the energy they need to heal.
- Make eye contact with me—I’m still in here! Even if your loved one struggles to communicate, they are still there, waiting to be found. Make eye contact with them, speak to them, and engage them. Even one-sided communication can support your loved one’s emotional health and help them rebuild the pathways they need to communicate again.
- Don’t assume my cognitive ability can be measured by how fast I can think. Neuroplasticity is an astoundingly powerful process in which the brain rewires the neural pathways it needs as it heals. The healthy areas of the brain take up the slack for the damaged areas, but it takes time. Retrieving information from damaged pathways can take extra time, but it doesn’t mean a survivor has lost their intelligence. They’ve only lost the shortcut to the information they need.
- Repeat everything, starting at the beginning. Recovery takes a lot of mental effort, and sometimes a survivor needs to hear something a few times to understand it. Be patient, and repeat yourself from the beginning. This saves them from trying to match the pieces of what you’ve said together.
- When I have energy, give me stimulation, but let me rest when I’m tired. Learning takes a lot of energy. Just like the way young children need frequent sleep to keep up, it’s not uncommon for survivors to want a nap after rehab sessions, getting ready in the morning, or eating a meal. Stimulation helps with healing, but so does plenty of sleep!
- Don’t yell at me if I need you to repeat something. It might be a habit to raise your voice when repeating something, but many stroke survivors require extra time to process your words and form a response. Unless they ask you to speak up, there’s no reason to repeat your words louder. Instead, speak slowly and clearly.
- I’m not lazy, I’m healing. Brains are an expensive resource when they’re functioning right, but they take up even more energy when they’re working on healing. If your loved one seems sleepy all the time or is reluctant to be active, they’re probably tired from healing their brain.
- Be patient when my memory isn’t as good as it was. Short-term and long-term memory are often heavily affected by a stroke. After a stroke, the healthy parts of the brain are remodeling and building new pathways to information around the damaged parts. Sometimes this can affect memory retrieval and make it harder to form new memories.
- Sometimes I get stuck, but don’t take over unless I ask. Recovery from a stroke isn’t a smooth process, but survivors need practice doing things for themselves. When your loved one gets stuck on a task, offer advice or coaching, but don’t do it for them. You can harm their recovery by taking away chances to practice.
- I’m not emotional, I’m healing. Like many things, the emotional center of the brain can be affected by a stroke. It’s possible that mood swings can occur while your loved one is recovering. This, compounded with the frustration of relearning everything, can make a survivor emotionally volatile. Give them time to work through their emotions, and don’t take it personally.
Do you have a loved one who is recovering from a stroke? Our Fairfield County stroke rehabilitation center offers expert rehabilitation services, customized to fit your loved one’s needs. Our team of rehabilitation professionals are compassionate and highly experienced in working with stroke patients at all stages of their recovery. Discover how our team at King Street Rehab can help your loved one. Schedule a tour of our facilities to learn more about our services.
Contact our office by calling (914) 937-5800.