What to do when a parent has a stroke: 5 Steps to take
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
If you’re reading this, you probably have been touched by stroke. Maybe it’s your parent, grandparent, an aunt, or even a family friend and you want to help. If you are not immediate family, please listen to the stroke survivor and their family regarding their wishes, and recognize this is a big change for everyone. If you are the child or caregiver of someone who has recently had a stroke, this article is for you.
1. Take a breath
You and your loved one have now experienced an event that while common, is never easy. Many people affected by stroke (survivors and their loved ones) describe experiencing a type of trauma or grief after losing the ability to live the way they did before. Take the time you need to recognize this, cope with changes, and know that it is OK to take a break sometimes.
2. Learn about the Rehab Process
For those of you who love someone who had a non-fatal stroke, the hard work is just beginning,
To regain some sense of normalcy, your loved one will likely face months of rehab. This process begins in the hospital where the PT, OT, and Speech Therapists will help determine how much therapy they can tolerate and require. They will help refer your loved one to after-hospital rehab in either Acute Rehab, Subacute Rehab (Often in Skilled Nursing Facilities), Home Health, or in cases where the challenges are minor, outpatient PT. (You can Learn more about after hospital rehab here!)
Unfortunately, the rehab options are sometimes limited due to insurance coverage. Please ask the social worker or rehab director of the hospital or facility your loved one is in, or call your insurance company directly to learn about the specifics of your program.
You may have heard that most of the recovery after stroke happens in the first 3 months, after injury, but there is not an end date to when progress can be made. After the initial stage rehab is finished, please know if problems come up, or your loved one is ready to work toward more progress, you can always go back to therapy for more. At some point, it may not be deemed medically necessary according to insurance, but there are private pay options and long-term care policies that can help cover the expenses.
3. All Little Victories deserve celebration!
As rehab days drag on, your loved one may feel overwhelmed, and that the work in rehab is "pointless" and that your loved one will "never" get better. Before these dark thoughts creep in, try to celebrate the small wins, especially if you’ve now become a full-time caregiver.
Did they learn to wash their face today? Great! Maybe help Mom would like to wear some makeup to feel more like herself!
Were they able to roll over in bed with less help? Amazing! Maybe Dad can reposition himself in bed before calling for help and feel more independent.
Did you figure out how to help them with a car transfer? Go take them to the drive-through to get Ice Cream!
Can they stand without their knees buckling? How about giving them a standing hug! You know they deserve it!
4. Find Local Support
Social Workers have a wealth of information regarding the services available in the area. If you live far from your loved one, or are overwhelmed by the medical system, you may want to hire a care manager to help advocate for and convey information regarding their care.
Support Groups (online forums/in person) are great places to ask questions, vent frustrations, and get support from others in your position. Local groups have insider knowledge about the resources available. However, in the busy early days after being affected by a stroke, you may find online groups easier to access.
Medical Equipment Suppliers (DME suppliers): Eventually when your loved one comes home, equipment will be needed, the social worker may give you options, but you may want to seek out a local source that can file through insurance for larger items (such as hospital beds/etc).
Psychological Support: You and your loved one have undergone a major life change, and it is common to experience some depression and anxiety after such an event. There are virtual and in person therapy services that can help, some are even covered by Medicare.
In Home Care: If you have become the caregiver for your loved one, or are trying to get them home from, you will likely need some extra help. There are home care aides that can provide services such as cooking/light housework/and companion care, as well as professional CNAs who can provide physical assistance and give you respite as needed. Your insurance may help cover the cost of this, even if you have Medicaid, so be sure to ask. We provide in-home outpatient level PT and wellness services.
If you’re in the triangle and need some help getting finding resources, please reach out to me by email or phone. I’d love to help
5. Help prevent secondary complications:
Stroke Survivors often had several risk factors for their first stroke and are now at risk for other health conditions. Your help in the early stages of recovery can help prevent these complications
Promote physical activity. Sitting down or staying in bed all day is not good for the brain, heart, or muscles. Talk with your PT about safe exercises your loved one can do (independently, or with minimal assistance). As your loved one recovers, reaching cardiovascular exercise goals is vital in decreasing the risk for secondary strokes, or heart disease.
Reposition Frequently to avoid pressure sores: After a stroke, your loved one may not feel pressure or pain in the same way on their affected side and they may not realize something is wrong until the skin starts to break down. Changing position frequently as recommended by your PT (and at least hourly while awake) is vital to avoid sores.
Prevent Contractures: When someone has decreased mobility and spends a lot of time in bed or sitting, it is common for their joints (especially ankles and knees) to become stiffened or "locked" in a position that does not allow for normal movement. This is especially common in the ankles of stroke survivors. Braces and splints that hold the foot up can help support a better resting posture in order to allow for better transfers and walking in the future. Ask your PT for specific recommendations.
Do you need a physical therapist who knows the process and will help you through recovery? Do you need a second opinion? Send us an email and our Doctor of Physical Therapy will get back to you as soon as possible!