Stroke recovery happens as soon as the disease process is under control. The brain starts to slowly respond to the damage done to it and will alter or change its way of functioning to accommodate for the loss or death of parts.
Caregivers and patients need to understand that stroke recovery is slow and unpredictable. How the brain repairs itself is still largely a mystery. This is what makes each stroke survivor’s prognosis different. Doctors, nurses, and therapists can only guess at how a patient will respond according to the location and severity of stroke. It is the support of the survivor’s family, friends, and self that can make all the difference in recovery.
Recovery from stroke happens in a “two steps forward, one step back” process. There may be days of remarkable recovery for the stroke patient, and then there may be days of great loss. It is during this time that caregivers, friends, and family must find joy in the smallest of gains in your loved one.
The Family’s Role in Recovery
The family gives us a sense of belonging, completeness, and purpose in life. Family members suffering from stroke need more than ever to be connected to family. Stroke survivors may not be able to immediately resume their previous roles, but still need to be included. In our attempts not to leave them out, there are times when we as African-Americans swing too far the other way. We may give too much family control to stroke survivors, not thinking of their limitations. This is painfully true when the stroke survivor is the leader or elder of the family.
When grandparents or parents are involved, adult children may allow the stroke survivor to dictate their wants, versus what everyone knows is best for them. In many cases, the thought of confrontation with a grandparent or parent is unwanted. The respect shown to African-American family elders is absolute. You do not argue or disagree with what they want, say, or do. This is how many people in the culture are raised. This type of upbringing can lead to issues of respect versus disrespect when it comes to important things like safety.
In trying to adjust to the needs of the stroke survivor, changes in family and home may occur. Family members may have to decide for the survivor where he or she should live throughout their recovery. This is not an easy decision as it affects not only the survivor, but also the household of the family member the survivor goes to live with. Family interactions, functions, and routines will change in response to the survivor being there. There will be more demands on the household emotionally, physically, and economically. These demands will directly affect everyone in that household in some positive and negative ways.
The family’s ability to live day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month with the recovery process will be the overall factor in how an African-American family recovers from stroke. In having the stroke survivor re-enter the family, the previous roles each member of the family had will change. The stroke survivor may not be able to carry out the roles he or she once had. It is up to the family to rearrange or redistribute these roles to help the family function properly.
Care must also be taken to keep the stroke survivor involved in the family’s life. This means allowing the stroke survivor to take responsibility for the roles he or she can do. If Mom is not capable of cooking, but wants to help in raising the children, let her. If Dad can’t drive, but can do yard work, let him. These roles will allow the stroke survivor to feel like he or she is a useful and wanted part of the family, not a burden on others.
All families have a rhythm to them that is as individual as the people that make up the family. When a stroke affects one of the family members, the rhythm of the family is disrupted. In trying to find the rhythm again, families tend to fall back on the normal routines they once had. It is important to keep these routines even after the stroke survivor returns home.
The everyday rhythm of family will allow the stroke survivor to feel safe and comfortable while adjusting to the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. The routines also allow the family to cope with the changes in their loved one. In keeping the family rhythm going, promises made by the family should be kept. This includes the member of the family that had the stroke. If the family promised to be at Auntie’s birthday party, then the entire family should go. If the family goes to church every Sunday, then the entire family should continue to go. The promises that are important to the family should remain important.