According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 people in the U.S have a stroke every year. In the event of a stroke, it is common for family members to serve as an informal caregiver; however, with inadequate knowledge, caregiver burnout can occur more often than expected.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, or an obstruction to its supply prevents oxygen from reaching tissue. When the brain lacks oxygen, brain cells and tissue become damaged and begin to die. This ultimately leads to damage that can lead to long-term disability for survivors. Currently, strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States.
What Causes a Stroke?
A blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or a leak/burst of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke) can cause a stroke. A person may have a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, which is called transient ischemic attack (TIA), but these don't lead to long term symptoms since it goes away soon after the recovery process begins again with no permanent issues.
Ischemic strokes are the most common. These occur when the brain's blood vessels become narrowed or blocked, resulting in a severe reduction of blood flow. These blockages can be caused by:
- Fatty deposits built up in blood vessels
- Blood clots or other debris that lodge in the brain's blood vessels
While initial studies showed that COVID-19 infections could also be a cause, there is still more research needed.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures. Conditions that affect your blood vessels are the likely cause of this type of stroke. These ruptures can occur due to:
- Unchecked high blood pressure
- Overuse of blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- Bulges at weak spots in your blood vessel walls (aneurysms)
- Trauma (typically a head injury)
- Ischemic stroke that leads to hemorrhaging
A less common cause of bleeding in the brain is an abnormal tangle of thin-walled blood vessels. This condition, called arteriovenous malformations or AVMs for short, can be detected with imaging procedures.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
A TIA, sometimes known as a ministroke, is caused by a temporary decrease in blood supply and may last up to five minutes before disappearing independently or with treatment. They're not usually dangerous unless you also have another condition such as hypertension that can make the attack more severe.
What Do Caregivers Need to Know About the Side Effects?
Whether mild or severe, a stroke has caused a devastating impact on the victim's life. All take great compassion to help them recover from their injuries. When caring for a stroke survivor, there are common side effects you should be aware of.
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Joint pain and rigidity
- Altered senses and spatial relationships
- Problems judging the position of parts of the body
- Difficulties with speech and language
- Sensations of pain and numbness
- Balance or coordination issues
- Bowel and/or urinary control problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- A sense of grief
Recovering from a Stroke
In the U.S., strokes are the leading cause of long-term disabilities. Luckily, it's become more prevalent in recent years as people live longer lives with their condition; the National Stroke Association reports that 10% of stroke survivors make an almost complete recovery. Another 25% recover with only minor impairments.
The first step to recovery and rehabilitation from a stroke is in the hospital. There, the stroke survivor can be stabilized while care teams assess their condition and identify underlying factors so that therapy may begin with some skills lost.
10 Tips for Caring for a Stroke Patient at Home
It's hard to know what to expect from the stroke rehabilitation and recovery process. However, following these nine tips when caring for a patient or loved one who has survived a stroke can make the process easier.
1. Follow the Healthcare Professional's Instructions
To be a good caregiver, you need to learn about your patient or loved one's needs. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, with all the information available and people giving their advice on how best to care for them, try soaking up as much knowledge so that when things do start getting tough in times of difficulty or crisis, you are prepared.
Take an active role in your loved one's recovery process by asking the healthcare professionals any questions you may have regarding home care and their rehabilitation. For example, if a person is suffering from aphasia and cannot speak clearly due to brain damage, how will they recover? Consider bringing a list of questions with you when you talk to their healthcare provider.
2. Involve Any Necessary Specialists
Therapy can be a difficult and overwhelming process, but it is necessary for recovery. While their therapy may vary based on what area needs more work, like physical or occupational rehabilitation (or speech), make sure to start the process as soon as possible. Maintain consistent appointments recommended by their doctor, nurse and/or occupational therapist to achieve long-term goals appropriately treated by experts who know about post-stroke patients.
3. Encourage a Daily Exercise Routine
Maintaining an active lifestyle after a disability has occurred is crucial not only for your physical health but also emotional wellbeing too. Movement and exercise are two of the best ways to combat mobility impairments. Even simple activities like walking around the block can help stroke victims regain muscle memory, strengthening motor skills over time as they become more accustomed to moving around again without assistance from others or mobility devices.
4. Ensure a Healthy Diet for Your Stroke Patient
Stroke survivors are at risk of having another stroke. To help minimize this, make sure they eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated to maintain optimal levels of vitamins and nutrients in their body so that you can keep their health in check.
5. Set Suitable Goals for the Patient
Don't take on too much, but ensure the stroke survivor takes consistent steps towards their rehabilitation. Daily efforts will promote physical recovery, and small accomplishments can provide a big mental boost to get back on track toward long-term goals!
6. Be Understanding and Supportive
It's important to be a supportive listener when your loved one is going through the change of having an injury or disability. A stroke can bring on many significant changes. They might experience emotional adjustment issues in response to these traumatic events that lead them into behaviours out-of-character, such as feeling apathetic about their day/life situation and even anger.
Make sure you're there to boost their confidence, ensuring they are comfortable talking openly without fear of judgment about their struggles throughout their stroke recovery. Try listening patiently with attention given to their mental state; many stroke survivors experience depression and/or anxiety throughout their rehabilitation process. If possible, find local support groups for stroke survivors.
7. Follow Up on the Blood Work
If their doctor prescribes anticoagulants, you'll need regular blood testing to ensure a safe and accurate dosage. Blood thinners help the patients' bodies recover from strokes caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. This medication must be taken correctly, or there could be negative consequences.
8. Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself
It's not easy to be a caregiver. You may become so wrapped up in your patient that you start taking on their stress too, which will only make things harder for both of you. One way to protect yourself from feeling overwhelmed or even guilty is by looking after your physical and mental health to ensure you do not experience caregiver burnout.
9. Keep a Record of Any Side Effects
One of the most critical steps in recovery from a stroke is a quick and accurate diagnosis. Regular follow-up visits are needed to monitor treatment progress, which is why it's essential to track any side effects they may have due to rehabilitation or medications.
10. Adapt the Stroke Patient's Home
The home of the stroke survivor must also be adapted to ensure comfort and minimize risk factors throughout their care. Consider purchasing items that will make caregiving easy, such as adult bibs, grab bars, bed pads, and bedding.