Helping Post-Stroke Patients on Their Way to Recovery

Each year, about 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke. Currently, it is the leading cause of long-term disability. For this reason, more caregivers are finding themselves caring for stroke patients.

Most survivors want to return home and be independent as much as their health permits. But recovery after stroke remains a challenge. Those who have full support from their family and care team do better and achieve health goals earlier than most.

Take the case of Peter, a retired teacher who suffered a stroke one year ago. At that time, he could not speak properly, and the right side of his body was too weak to move. Because he had proper support, at present, Peter is looking good and can steadily climb up a flight of steps.

After his discharge from the hospital, most of his care was done at home. Nurses and therapists come to check on him during scheduled visits, and his home health aide, Annie, stayed with him most days of the week.

Peter is thankful for his family and the care team who made his recovery possible, but he is especially appreciative of Annie who gave him the most encouragement when improvement seemed far off. Annie’s support was one very good reason Peter got his health back.

She looks back at the past year and feels accomplished about being part of her client’s incredible progress. Below are Annie’s tips on how to make this success possible:

1. Always have something positive to say about the stroke patient’s progress.

Did they eat better today than yesterday, even if they did not finish their meal? Say that you noticed their improvement and then tell them you'll prepare more of their favorite healthy meal. Did they walk a little farther today than yesterday? This is still worth mentioning to keep them motivated to reach their goals.

2. Understand that a stroke may happen again.

Reduce this risk by ensuring that eat a healthy diet, keep their lifestyle habits in check, and take their medications as advised. They must follow the recommended diet and exercise regimen. Fill half their plates with fruit and vegetable servings, and add some good sources of carbohydrates and proteins with a very minimal amount of fat and salt.

Know when another stroke is happening. Remember the acronym FAST, which stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech problems, and Time to call for help (when any of those signs are observed).

3. Always follow the care plan.

Although a caregiver or a home health aide spends the most time with the patient, caring for post-stroke patients is a team effort and the care plan must be strictly followed. Make sure that you do not delay in assisting them in taking their medications.

4. Provide for their comfort at all times.

Do they have trouble putting on a shirt because of arm weakness? Help them choose shirts with buttons in front. Support them when they change position in bed, when transferring, and when they are reaching for things. Prop them up with pillows if positioning is a problem.

5. Keep them safe from falls.

Stroke patients usually have weakness of the arms and legs. Stand slightly behind them on their strong side when supporting them while walking. Use a gait belt when walking or transferring them. Make sure grab bars are installed in the home and remove all possible causes of falls, like clutter and throw rugs.

6. Make note of every change.

Whether in behavior, function, or mood, changes may be positive or negative. Keep a record or a simple diary. These observations are very important in determining the patient's progress.

7. Provide emotional support.

Some stroke patients will have difficulty controlling their emotions. They may suddenly burst into tears, stop, then laugh out loud. Understand that these changes are part of their illness and that it can improve over time.

8. And perhaps the most important advice of all: do not give up on your patient, especially when progress seems slow.

Stroke can cause loss of function in some body parts, which leads to a lot of frustration in patients. Continue motivating them and give them the assistance they need.

Many post-stroke recovery stories are an account of teamwork among the patient, their family, the caregiver, and the care team. Home health aides who actively and genuinely support their patients are an important instrument in helping the post-stroke patient reach full recovery.