When you first find out your husband or wife has survived a stroke, your immediate thought is likely pure happiness and gratitude. But then uncertainty might settle in. What’s the journey like for recovering from a stroke?
Jean D. Luciano, CRNP, Stroke Team Co-Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Penn Medicine and a nurse practitioner at the Penn Medicine Neuroscience Center, explains what you might be able to expect, and what you can do to help your spouse with recovery.
The path to recovering from a stroke
When a person has had a stroke and comes to the emergency room, the hospital has one goal: Save the person’s life.
Once your spouse is out of immediate danger, questions begin. “The first thing we want to do is find out why they had a stroke,” Jean says. “Then, we can take measures to prevent another one from happening.”
For example, depending on the type of stroke you had, certain medications can prevent a second stroke.
“The patient gets a lot of testing within the first 24 to 48 hours,” Jean notes. “Then, she can get physical therapy and occupational therapy. That can help the patient get to her best state before she either goes home or to a rehabilitation facility for a few weeks.”
But, she says, if a person had a more severe stroke, they might need more intensive therapy to get back as much as possible from their stroke.
The official provider of physical, occupational, and speech therapy for Penn Medicine is Good Shepherd Penn Partners, which provides both inpatient and outpatient physical rehabilitation. The facility also provides specialized, long-term, acute care for stroke survivors in Pennsylvania.
5 ways a spouse can help
Though you might feel helpless while your husband or wife is going through the rehabilitation process, there are 5 things that you can do to help with their recovery.
Don’t help too much
“One of the hardest things is sometimes, spouses want to do things for the stroke survivor. They’ll see their husband or wife struggling to use a fork, cut their food, or other simple things like that, and they’ll want to do it for them,” Jean says.
It’s completely understandable, she says. “But it’s important that they do things for themselves as much as possible.”
Watch for depression
Depression can affect more than a third of stroke survivors, in part, because they feel hopeless or sad about the life-changing impact the stroke has had on them.
“Depression can interfere with their therapy or their recovery,” Jean explains. Signs of depression can include symptoms like persistent sad or empty feelings, sleep disturbances, and an increase or decrease in their appetite.
To say the least, recovering from a stroke can be incredibly frustrating and aggravating at times for the stroke survivor.
“Oftentimes, they will lash out at the people closest to them because they know that even if they are angry at you, you’re going to love them, anyway,” Jean says. “So, I often tell patients’ family to be patient if that happens.”
Find other ways to communicate
Aphasia—when a person has speech difficulty because there has been damage to parts of the brain that control language—is very common with people who have had a stroke.
An estimated 80,000 people have aphasia each year due to a stroke, according to the National Aphasia Association.
“It’s probably one of the most frustrating deficits, because you’re unable to get the words out,” Jean notes.
A few ways to help your spouse deal with aphasia
- Give your spouse time to speak.
- Ask if it’s OK to guess what they’re trying to say.
- Look into speech assistance devices, such as iPhone apps.
- Have photos, maps, or paper and pencil on hand.
“People may be able to write what they want to say, but aren’t able to say it,” Jean says.
Don’t forget to also take care of yourself
We know it’s easier said than done when you have a spouse who requires constant care because of his stroke.
“Oftentimes, spouses are so focused on the stroke survivor who has a lot of needs. So, they don’t get medical care for themselves, and they don’t keep their physical and emotional health in check,” Jean says.
But self-care is critical: If something happens to you as well, then the stroke survivor is really in a bind.