See if you can take some of their stress and worries away – offer to pick up their mail, feed their cat, or contact distant relatives who may not have heard about the stroke.
Help them keep their paperwork organized – important phone numbers, insurance cards, letters from the hospital, etc. Consider getting an accordion folder with several pockets.
Advise them if they ask for help, but remember they have the final word in these decisions. They have spent some time lying in bed having things done to them (to save their lives). Let them take action on their own.
Take time to listen. They may desperately need a sympathetic ear. A lot of fear, anger, and confusion has built up and they may need to vent it. This is just that –venting.
Don’t tell them what to do to ‘fix’ things, don’t tell them to cheer up. Let them release their emotions. They’ll feel a hundred pounds lighter when they’re done.
Ask if you can help them with their rehab ‘homework’. Many rehabilitation therapists give exercises and puzzles to be completed after the rehab session. For example, a physical therapist prescribe exercises to gently stretch out and loosen the muscles in their paralyzed arm.
Encourage them to work hard. Celebrate even small victories. Today they fed themselves by a spoon? A week ago they were so ill they couldn’t lift the spoon. What a lot of progress!
Be a friend, not another nurse.
Talk about what your mutual friends are up to, discuss the news, or bring them a good book or new CD from their favorite band. They may hear all day long about their medical status, what the next step is, how hard they need to work at rehabilitation – sometimes people just need a mental vacation to recharge their batteries.
Look into assistive devices – combs on long handles and stroke friendly plastic utensils and dishes, for example, that you can give as a ‘housewarming’ present when they are released from the hospital.
Another great option is food, since they may have trouble at first getting to the store. Check with their Doctor if they have swallowing problems after the stroke; there may be certain textures of food they can’t eat.
Help them stay on top of an avalanche of pills, prescriptions, therapy sessions, insurance claims, and so forth that they have to deal with. A day planner, pill organizer, or alarm on your phone may do the trick.
It can be hard to watch someone you care about struggle with so many health issues. Remember to take care of yourself as well. Your loved one needs a friend who’s at their best.