Being a caregiver is tough, but these tips should help.
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If you’re here, it might be because a loved one has just come home from the hospital after having a stroke and you’ll be their caregiver for the next few months.
First off, good job for looking for some help. You probably have a lot of questions about whether or not your loved one will recover, and what their needs will be in the months ahead. You might also be wondering if you’ll be able to manage.
Being a caregiver to a stroke survivor is tricky as the physical impact of a stroke can be slight or devastating. Fortunately, equipping yourself with the necessary information will keep you on the right path in helping your loved one recover.
Let’s start with some general information on stroke to bring you up to speed.
In 2018, stroke was the third leading cause of death and disability in Malaysia. On average, 92 people were admitted each day to Malaysian healthcare facilities nationwide due to stroke, and almost 32 of those resulted in death.
Anybody can experience a stroke, regardless of age. In Malaysia, 40% of stroke patients are younger than 60 years old.
TRP spoke to Nisha Andrea Raj, a nurse and care specialist from Homage Malaysia who has over 10 years of experience in stroke care, to better understand what it takes to take care of a stroke survivor.
TIP 1: Prepare
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood supply to the brain gets blocked, by either a blood clot or from a burst blood vessel in the brain. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged.
It is imperative to know the type of stroke, when did the stroke happen, what was the treatment provided, the risk factors, recovery progress, and provided medication. This will ease our approach in assisting them.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
Nisha said many stroke survivors suffer from emotional incontinence – an increase in the frequency of crying or laughing episodes. They will be emotional and irritable and have outbursts that seem inappropriate to the situation.
She explains many factors can contribute to this, including the fact that your loved one has suddenly lost some of their bodily functions and are now unable to perform routine tasks as they used to.
We nurses have to ensure we are mentally prepared and always patient in providing care. Always have a positive mindset and be encouraging towards the patient. Remember, with patience and consistent effort, considerable progress can be made.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
TIP 2: Understand
Nisha explains that knowing the type of stroke that has taken place is important in implementing the right type of care they’ll need and key in preventing further complications.
While there are a few types of stroke, all of them can affect a patient’s body function, thinking, feelings, and communication.
The most important thing to consider when caring for a stroke survivor is understanding them and what their daily needs are.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
She said that understanding how they have been affected is also paramount in preventing miscommunication between the caregiver and patient that could lead to your loved one developing depression during their recovery period.
However, miscommunication is so common during a stroke survivors recovery as many experience slurred speech or have difficulty speaking. This then leads to them feeling frustrated when the people around them cannot understand them.
This could be their biggest challenge as they are not able to communicate or express their needs and feelings.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
Nisha advises tackling this early by preparing a communication board or a pen and some paper for your loved one to use. In this modern age, there are also communication apps that can help aid the recovery process.
She said this should make your loved one feel comfortable and more confident, as well as lead to a healthy relationship between the stroke survivor and caregiver.
TIP 3: Motivate
In her years of experience, she said the most common mistake family members make is misjudging the stroke survivor as being attention-seeking.
This usually occurs when the stroke survivor is totally dependent on the family for their daily needs.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
Stroke survivors with devastating physical impact may need special care and attention. This can make some families feel hopeless and think that their loved one will never regain normal function and mobility, says Nisha.
However, a full recovery depends on many factors, such as the survivor’s health before the stroke, where in the brain the stroke occurred, how much of the brain was affected, the survivor’s motivation, caregiver support, and especially, the quantity and quality of rehabilitation.
Nisha advises caregivers to identify the ability level of your loved one and their recovery progression based on the type of stroke they’ve had.
Family members may end up assisting the stroke survivor in doing everything. But, they should instead encourage the survivor to be more independent and help them train their affected body parts.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
TIP 4: Use Caution And Be Attentive
Stroke survivors can have risk factors and complications during their recovery that caregivers might not even be aware of, such as the risk of having another stroke.
Nisha highlights dysphagia in particular, which is the medical term for swallowing difficulties. She says that some stroke patients are fed food or water orally too early during their recovery period.
Many families are not aware that post-stroke patients may sometimes look normal when consuming food or water, but they are at higher risk of developing something called silent aspiration.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
Silent aspiration has no symptoms in the beginning and people are unaware that fluids or stomach contents can enter their lungs.
Healthy individuals cough or wheeze when water accidentally enters their respiratory system and they may also develop a hoarse voice or even a fever. But a stroke survivor’s body may not react that way.
The family should be cautious and attentive when caring for a stroke patient.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
Nisha advises speaking to the stroke survivor’s attending doctor about an oral feeding arrangement, or even request for an appointment to be educated about the stroke at the hospital before being discharged.
TIP 5: Take Care Of Yourself
Nisha warns caregivers about burnout, saying that caring for a loved one can strain even the most resilient people.
Stress, especially over a long period of time, can harm health and weaken the immune system. Her advice is to take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet rich in probiotics and exercising regularly, noting that activities like yoga, deep breathing, tai chi, qi gong, and meditation as good options.
Practising good time management is also imperative. This includes keeping a schedule for daily tasks and taking time off from caregiving to focus on your own needs. Getting the support you need from friends and family means you’ll be able to be a better caregiver too.
In situations like this, it is important to take some time off or join a support group with other caregivers. This can help you work through problems together, understand and prioritise workflow while developing new friendships.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
TIP 6: Always Seek Advice From The Attending Doctor
Lastly, Nisha reminds that her tips are only meant as a guide to help readers understand and benefit from her own experience. However, her experiences aren’t always applicable in every situation.
All content provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a piece of individualised advice, diagnosis, or treatment.Nisha Andrea Raj to TRP
She urges readers to avoid self-diagnosing and to seek the advice of the attending doctor for any questions or concerns you may have regarding any medical condition.
Starving forensic investigator turned writer cause she couldn't find a job. Used to search for killers now searches for killer stories.