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Helping elderly recover from stroke

Written by Denis Egidis & Denise Garner, Registered Nurses with integratedliving

The immediate months after experiencing a stroke are often the most challenging. Find out how you can help your loved one prepare for their recovery.
 

The immediate months after experiencing a stroke are often the most challenging and critical for seniors. It is a transition that requires them to adapt to a new way of living and receiving care. For family and friends witnessing the emotional, cognitive and physical impacts occurring to their loved ones at this time can be overwhelming too.

Understanding the stroke recovery stages can help people and their families better prepare, manage expectations and maintain and improve their quality of life. Here’s how you can help your loved one prepare for their rehabilitation process:

1) Be mindful of a second stroke

Having had one stroke makes it more likely another will occur. Therefore, it is important to understand the stroke survivor’s existing health conditions and any risk factors that may have contributed to the initial stroke and learn how to manage these better in future.

Some of the common risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Other lifestyle-related habits such as smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise and poor diet can be contributing factors as well.

Ensuring they become more aware of these risk factors and encouraging them to change their habits can help to reduce the chances of another stroke.

Speak to a medical professional if your loved one is still in hospital or their GP to create a rehabilitation plan which outlines the lifestyle changes that may improve their recovery from stroke.

2) Start rehabilitation asap

Studies have shown that the rate of recovery is generally greatest during the immediate weeks and months after suffering a stroke. This is when the neuroplasticity in the brain is at its highest, meaning the brain is reorganising and rebuilding neuron connections quickly.

Starting a stroke recovery and rehabilitation (rehab) plan as soon as possible is one of the key ways to achieving better outcomes. There are different approaches to treatment, and it depends on the part of the body or ability that has been affected by the condition.

Treatment typically starts in hospital and needs to continue once back at home. This may include bringing together a multidisciplinary health team including:

  • General Practitioner
  • Physiotherapist – to assist with physical therapy to improve balance, coordination and mobility
  • Speech therapist – to assist with speech and swallowing difficulties
  • Dietitian – to assist with nutritional needs if your loved one requires modified food and fluid
  • Occupational therapist – to assist with helping your loved one relearn daily activities (e.g. showering, cooking)

For most stroke patients, recovery mainly involves physical therapy. This involves helping stroke survivors to relearn everyday activities such as walking, sitting, standing, laying down and the process of switching between these regular movements.

Other therapies such as occupational and speech therapies are also used to assist people to relearn activities such as speaking, eating, drinking, swallowing, using the toilet, and so on. The aim is to help them regain all or as much of their independence as possible.

Beneficial tips:
  • Stimulation and repetitive practice are essential for recovery.
  • Admitting your loved one into a rehabilitation facility can help them achieve better recovery results than doing rehabilitation at home or at the clinic after hospital discharge.
  • You can organise specialised transport services from organisations such as integratedliving Australia to assist with getting your loved one to and from treatment clinics.
  • Consider moving in with them for a brief period to assist with the new routine.
  • They may be eligible for a Home Care Package (HCP) or increase to an existing package as a result of the condition. Reach out to My Aged Care to find out more.
     

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3) Helping them come to terms with the condition

Receiving the initial diagnosis can be daunting and spark an emotional and stressful time for everyone. As your loved one tries to cope with the trauma of stroke, it is important to offer comfort, patience and try to be positive.

Post-stroke depression is common, and it may seriously hinder stroke recovery and rehabilitation. Seek support early and reach out to counsellors or tap into community resources to develop a plan of action. Mental wellness can be just as important as physical progress.

Understand that recovery from stroke can be a long and frustrating experience. Be honest about the outcomes. Create small recovery goals that are achievable. Continue to encourage your loved one to do simple tasks. Build a recovery team around them and make sure they are getting the rehab therapies they need.

As much as possible, involve them in all family activities and try not to exclude them due to their physical or mobility limitations.

Beneficial tips:
  • Talk to your GP about a referral for counselling sessions for emotional support if required, as these can be free or heavily subsidised.
  • Enrol in educational courses such as integratedliving’s Wellness for Independence programs that are designed to offer support to seniors who are living with different conditions, including stroke.
     

4) Create routines

A good routine can be much easier to follow rather than relying on motivation. You can motivate your loved one to get started on their rehab, but routine is what helps them form habits that will continue to drive them through their recovery process.

Write a list of activities for them to do every day, blend rehab activities with personal interests to make it more fun (e.g., playing their favourite music during exercises) or combine new routines with old routines. These will help to take the mundane aspects out of the routine and keep their mind focused on getting better.

Watch out for the recovery plateau – stroke survivors typically experience the most results from their rehab during the first three-to six months of recovery. This offers great encouragement and creates extra motivation to remain engaged. However, once past this important phase, patients will often notice a slowdown in their progress. It is important to remind them this does not mean the recovery has stopped, it may just be happening at a steadier pace. Having a firm routine can help immensely as they transition through this noticeable change.

Beneficial tips:
  • Minimise background noise when doing rehab sessions.
  • Positive gestures, and consistent praise and encouragement can make a big difference.
  • Introduce games to help stimulate the brain if you have smart devices – e.g., Sudoku, BrainHQ, Luminosity app
  • Do short but frequent activities - quality is more important than length.
     

5) Look after yourself too

Stroke recovery is a marathon not a sprint. There will be highs and lows and family members and carers will most likely experience stress, disappointment and despair as well as positive emotions.

Prepare for the journey by equipping yourself with as much knowledge as possible about post-stroke complications and the recovery process. There are plenty of resources available, and you can also reach out to care providers such as integratedliving Australia for extra assistance. Once you understand the implications and know what stroke treatment options are available, you are better informed to help your loved one with their recovery process.

If you find yourself becoming burnt out, there are respite services available to you to help you recharge. The emotional burden of looking after a stroke patient can become overwhelming and you need to ensure your wellbeing is looked after, too. Be sure to see a counsellor if you need some helpful guidance, or just a wise ear.

Finally, celebrate the small achievements along the way. The repetitive nature of rehab can be draining so it’s important to take time to acknowledge the improvements you and your loved one have made together. The recognition of progress, no matter how small, will help to revitalise morale and encourage you both along a challenging journey.
 

More resources:

 

Learn about our health services to help your loved one recover from stroke.