Caring for a Stroke Patient

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 28, 2023
Caring for a Stroke Patient

People associate strokes with old age, but more stroke survivors are middle-aged or younger. Here's what you need to know if you're caring for a stroke patient.

The chances of dying from a stroke have fallen by a third, but more stroke survivors are middle-aged or younger, with many years ahead of them. Suddenly a blood clot blocks an artery, or a blood vessel breaks, and cells in a part of the brain lose their blood supply and begin to die.

Afterwards, the survivor’s life may never be the same. Strokes can paralyze parts of the body and make it difficult to speak or recall words.


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As a parent, adult child, spouse, sibling, or dear friend, you may find yourself spending time every day helping your loved one get back on her feet. Your life becomes packed with chores. For starters, you may be helping your loved one keep up with appointments with a large healthcare team.

The team may include:

  • An occupational therapist, who builds skills for daily living
  • A physiatrist to manage pain and a rehabilitation plan
  • A physical therapist for exercise programs
  • A speech therapist to help regain speech
  • A vocational therapist to consider work or volunteer opportunities

Your mother or sister will have exercises to do and medications to take, and have trouble keeping track of it all, not to mention learning to eat with one hand.  

A caregiver’s first job is to stay sane and help keep your loved one’s spirits up. Consider keeping a journal to offer inspiration and guidance and help you release emotional tension and collect your thoughts.

Connecting to other stroke survivors and caregivers can help keep both of you from feeling singled-out for misfortune and bewildered: You’ll see that other people have navigated similar waters. You might find a support group for your loved one.


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Stroke survivors are at greater risk for another stroke, so you’ll need to know the signs well. To diagnose a possible stroke.

  • Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is her speech slurred or strange?

Call 911 immediately and note the time the symptoms began. A clot-buster medication may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke if the victim takes it within three hours of the first symptom.

Stroke survivors should quit smoking and be careful about the alcohol they consume, which can increase stroke risk. Using cocaine and amphetamines will also increase stroke risk because they narrow blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Exercising for a half hour five times a day will help — even at home.

Emotions can run high in any circumstances. It’s much worse when your loved one has changed and become unpleasantly difficult. Brain damage to the frontal lobe can lead to a loss of empathy and impulse control — so a stroke victim might lash out.

Or she may be clinically depressed, which can cause angry outbursts, says Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers.” 

It’s possible for the person to psychologically abuse you. If you become afraid for your own safety or are often fretting or crying or carrying on angry conversations in your head, be sure to get help.

Sometimes you can worry just because you have too much to do and feel perpetually behind. The American Stroke Association offers these simple time-management tips for caregivers:

  1. On the weekend, pre-make meals for some or all of the week that will taste fine defrosted.
  2. Take advantage of ways to reduce your amount of driving trips.
  3. At the beginning of the week, sort your loved one’s pills into an organizer, so you don’t have to help with finding each item every morning or night.
  4. When doing health research, set a time limit or stay focused on a particular question rather than letting hours go by at a computer.
  5. Create a list of tasks for anyone who will fill in as a caregiver.
  6. Accept offers to help or suggest other actions that would help you more.

Caregiving may be the most difficult — and potentially rewarding — job of your life. Know that there are many people in your shoes and organizations to help, among them:


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August 28, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN