As a Stroke Belt state, Kentucky is home to more than 130,000 adults living with the after-effects of stroke. Thousands more are caring for loved ones who have had a stroke. For many, coming home and getting back to “normal” can be overwhelming. You no longer have a team of doctors looking after you or a physical therapist motivating you. You may not even have someone at home helping you with daily activities. It’s all up to you.
“When the dust settles on this whirlwind you’ve just been through, it can be confusing to know what to do next,” said Leigh Foxx, R.N., a nurse navigator at the Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center. “The first thing you need to do is let your primary care physician know what happened.”
Your primary care provider can refill prescriptions and help you reduce risk factors for another stroke, such as controlling high blood pressure. He or she can also help with emotional issues such as depression, which affects approximately one-third of stroke survivors at some time in their recovery. Your primary care provider should also work in conjunction with your neurologist, who can help with any cognitive and physical deficits you might be dealing with after the stroke.
“If you don’t think you’re progressing in your healing or you need additional rehab or help in some aspect of your recovery, you’ve got to bring it up to your doctor,” Foxx said. “It’s OK to ask for help.”
The next thing you need to do is cut yourself some slack, according to Foxx.
“Fatigue is the No. 1 issue patients deal with after a stroke,” she said. “Your brain is healing, which takes an enormous amount of energy. Plus it may take you longer to get things done, which can be tiring. Allow yourself plenty of breaks between tasks and rest when you need to. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t jump back into your former routine.”
Foxx stresses that fatigue is normal and can take six to 12 months to resolve. During that time it’s easy to lose motivation with rehab or making lifestyle changes to prevent another stroke. That’s when it’s time for you or your caregiver to recognize it and do something about it.
Then, get on with life.
“You have to get out, even if you don’t want to or it takes longer. Simply getting out of the house can help you establish a routine again,” Foxx said.
If you lose motivation for making changes to your diet, for example, identify how you can make just one small change. Once that one change becomes a habit, it’s easier to make one more small change, and so on. Trying to make a major overhaul of your eating habits all at once can be too much to take on.
“It’s important to keep in mind what you can do, and not dwell on what you can’t do,” Foxx said. “Find the one thing that motivates you to change, and if you can be successful at that thing, it’s less overwhelming.”
Finally, know you are not alone.
“There is a lot of help available to stroke patients and their families or caregivers, from help with getting health-related services to assistance with financial or disability issues,” Foxx said.
This is an important message for caregivers as well: Foxx says caregivers seldom allow themselves the care they need and can feel isolated in their new role.
“Caregiving is a tough job, and they need a day off once a week for themselves or to get errands done,” Foxx said. “Ask your church or your children for help; attend a support group. When it comes to recovering from stroke, it takes a village.”
-Courier Journal Article