May Is Stroke Awareness Month
If your loved one suffers a stroke, you'll probably be left overwhelmed with countless questions.
What medications have been prescribed? What side effects should you watch for? Does your home need to be modified to meet the needs of the stroke survivor?
To help answer common questions, the American Stroke Association has released a list of 15 tips to help family members cope with their new role as stroke caregivers.
The list, created as part of American Stroke Month in May, runs the gamut from recovery expectations and therapy to resources and preventing secondary stroke.
"There's a complicated series of paths that one must navigate after a stroke has occurred," said David Alexander, M.D., chairman of the American Stroke Association's Rehabilitation, Prevention and Recovery Committee. "This list is a starting point for answers to common questions and addresses common concerns. It should serve as a resource for caregivers and stroke survivors following hospital admission for stroke."
Wendy Sessler said she wished the list was available in 1996, when her mother suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on the left side.
"The things she did and said -- I didn't understand why," said Sessler, 43, of Kill Devil Hills, N.C. "No one told us what to look for. I had to find out everything on my own."
The list also covers the possible changes in emotion and behavior in stroke survivors. Post-stroke depression is common, with as many as 30 percent to 50 percent of stroke survivors developing depression in the early or later phases after their stroke. An estimated 5.8 million stroke survivors are alive today. Annually, an estimated 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke.
Sessler's mother, Mary Morgan, said her stroke left her feeling isolated and imprisoned.
"My reality was a lonely, dark, empty place," Morgan said. "Stroke alters a mind in many different ways, so I cried often and lashed out at those around me."
But time and treatment have made a difference in her recovery.
Katherine Sullivan, Ph.D., PT, a member of the American Stroke Association's Rehabilitation, Prevention and Recovery Committee, said the list also should serve as patient and survivor education.
"There will always be questions, no matter what stage the survivor or caregiver is in," Sullivan said. "Each stage after the stroke requires adjustment as both the survivor and the caregiver negotiate the road to recovery. Recovery begins the day after stroke, but questions will change as the stroke survivor passes through the hospital phase through return to a healthy and active community life."
Sessler said it's also important for caregivers to take care of their health -- as the committee recommends.
"I know it's hard to give yourself a day, but you need to do it," Sessler said. "Don't take what your loved one is saying too personally. As their caretaker, you take the brunt of everything. Remember that person you love is still in there."