Caring for a person after stroke can be very difficult. Stroke often occurs suddenly. Within a few seconds, your whole world can change.

  • The speed and amount of recovery are unknown.
  • Many questions arise about the future when dealing with the changes of the stroke, for both the survivor and their loved ones.
  • Stroke can present many problems, which span physical, emotional and cognitive areas.
  • A survivor may be physically and cognitively impaired, creating a challenge for the person providing care.

Caregiver Stress

The term “caregiver stress” is used to show that caring for a loved one after a stroke is physically and emotionally difficult. It can cause all types of problems for the caregiver, depending on the type of relationship you have with your family members, such as parents or a spouse.

Many questions may come to mind when you are giving care: Can I really do this? Am I doing enough (too much)? Can I physically handle this? How will I ever learn all of the care tasks? Will I be able to take care of myself too?

This last question is very important because if you don’t take care of yourself, you will be unable to care for your family member.

Meeting Your Needs

Meeting your needs and this person’s needs is tricky, yet important. When the scales tip and your stress gets to be too much, you might go through many negative emotions. Stressed caregivers feel anger, guilt, depression, anxiety and feelings of being alone. They may also feel very tired.

It’s important to watch for the early signs so you can take steps to prevent the stress from getting worse. Many times, caregivers wait too long before they will admit to their own exhaustion and then it’s much harder to find ways to help.

Watch for some of these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Problems with sleep or eating patterns
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Increased use of medications or alcohol to “relax”
  • Flare up of your own medical problems or a new illness
  • Insensitive handling of the person being cared for

When ignored, caregiver stress can lead to abuse and neglect or the need for nursing home placement of your family member. What can you do if you find some of these signs in your daily life? No easy answers exist, but sometimes even small things can help. Here are a few tips to follow:

Become comfortable asking for help.

Throw out those old beliefs that asking others for a favor is a sign of weakness or that others should know when and how to help.

Keep communication open and clear between you and your family member.

It’s important to remember to allow the person with the stroke to make decisions and do things as able.

Remember your own needs must come first sometimes.

Even though it’s your family member who is surviving the stroke, this person’s needs cannot always come first. Remember you can provide care for the person only as well as you take care of yourself.

Look for sources of support.

Support from others is very important whether it comes in the form of physical help with your family member, someone to help you get away for a while or someone to just listen to you. Often, other family members are very helpful, but if they aren’t, friends and neighbors are sometimes willing to help.

Look for time to rest, have fun and exercise.

Time away doing something different is important to your personal well-being. This should happen regularly in small ways, like a phone call to a friend, a relaxing bath or a walk on a nice day. Occasionally, a big treat is needed,
like a night out with friends or even a vacation for you with someone else taking over caregiving tasks.

Set limits on unnecessary care.

Sometimes a stroke can make your family member impatient and demanding. It is easy to give in to demands to avoid fights. It’s much harder, but you should learn to say “no” or “not now” when you know the request is unnecessary or the need is not immediate.

Support groups for caregivers are a good place to find information and emotional help. However, you may feel more comfortable asking a minister, rabbi or priest for spiritual support. Professional counseling is another way to get help.

Sometimes, the support should come in the form of paying someone to help care for your family member with a stroke, either hiring a personal attendant to help at home or even placing the person in a nursing facility for a short time to give you a break.