When your loved one has a stroke
Hearing the news that your loved one has had a stroke is life-altering and probably thought of as one of the worst days of your life. The person you love is likely unable to complete most of the tasks they were able to previously and may have changes in their personality. What an incredibly scary time. Many caregivers will jump into action, often looking after their loved one more than themselves. A caregiver may think if they can help compensate for what the loved one has lost, maybe things will go back to “normal.”
This scenario is an incredibly common situation that all the therapists at Imago Rehab have seen throughout the continuum of care. Even as therapists, it can be hard to watch a client struggle with tasks they want to complete. We understand that entering the role of a caregiver is very difficult and involves a very wide range of emotions from guilt to anger to fear and moments of joy too.
So, how do you "help" by "helping less?"
Counterintuitive as this may seem, sometimes, helping your loved one after a stroke, can actually be hurting their progress. Of course it’s important to support your loved one, but doing all of the difficult tasks for them, can lead to something called “learned helplessness.”
In other words, doing an entire task for your loved one, instead of letting them do the parts they can do, is teaching them that they really can’t do it. In the words of neuroplasticity (see our blog on this topic), “use it or lose it.” If a person after a stroke is not practicing using both arms in tasks everyday and with every opportunity that arises, they will end up losing that ability until they start doing it again.
If your loved one can pull their shirt over their head and put their unaffected arm in the sleeve, but they have a hard time putting their affected arm in the other sleeve first, make sure they do the parts they can do, EVERY TIME. This can be enforced by planning for the extra time needed to complete these tasks and take rest breaks as needed. As they practice, they will take less time and become more efficient as the brain changes and the task is relearned.
Additionally, allowing your loved one to help with tasks from dressing to bathing to meal preparation, will make them feel important and empowered. Have your loved one sit at the kitchen table and stir batter in a bowl or add chopped vegetables to a mix, anything to involve them in tasks as an ACTIVE participant. Having someone do everything for you when you were previously independent is a huge change. They have now gone from the role of mother, father, spouse, teacher, or electrician, etc. to someone that needs a lot of help. Giving them pieces of their independence back and empowering them with the skills they have and are getting back, is crucial for recovery.
At Imago Rehab, we love, respect, and empower caregivers. We want to help you help your loved one in the best way. We do our best to understand your unimaginable struggles while also celebrating every victory as it comes. Being a caregiver may have been an unexpected role in your life and we are here to help.
Caring for YOU
In the spirit of taking care of you, feel free to browse these caregiver support groups or join a Facebook group to talk to others who understand your situation. If you have any questions or comments or want to know more about Imago Rehab, visit our website or call 617-671-0789.
Try to make time for yourself and engage in the other roles you had before you became a caregiver. If you like to read, do that. If you like to take walks, do that too. You can even include your loved ones in your you-time activities as much as you want.
And to all of the caregivers of loved ones with chronic stroke or chronic illnesses, THANK YOU for all you do and don’t forget to take care of you too.