Although it is older people who most often tend to suffer strokes, the condition can affect anyone at any age. The Stroke Association, for example, reports that in the UK, around 400 children will have a stroke, out of a total of 150,000 cases each year.
The third most common cause of death in the UK, a stroke is essentially a disruption of the supply of blood to part of the brain. The blood vessels supplying it may become blocked or there may be a bleed, but in either case, the result is that vital oxygen and nutrients are prevented from going to where they are needed and the brain tissue may therefore be damaged.
The symptoms of a stroke will depend on the extent of the disruption and the part of the brain that is affected. Common symptoms can include numbness, weakness or facial drooping on one side of the body, slurred or confused speech and problems with vision. There may also be symptoms such as pain, incontinence, tiredness, loss of memory and dizziness. Its onset is usually very rapid and may happen overnight while the individual is sleeping.
Some of the most significant risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, poor diet and a history of heart disease. People who have previously suffered a stroke are also at greater risk than average.
The prospects for recovery will depend on the extent of the damage to the brain, and although many people will see relatively fast recovery over the first few weeks after an attack, it could take years to recover. Indeed, some people will be left with permanent effects, which could include immobility.
Particularly in the early days after a stroke, families and friends may be faced with a sudden and unexpected need to provide care, and the nature of this care can vary considerably. Medical professionals will usually provide clear instructions as to what forms of support will be most useful, and these might include physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy to help the individual to re-develop ordinary life skills associated with washing, dressing and preparing food.
Suffering a stroke can be an immense shock for the individual concerned and his or her family, but it is not a rare or poorly understood condition. Families can therefore rely on a well established support network of medical and care professionals, together with many helpful daily living aids and voluntary organisations dedicated to helping them to deal with new situations and responsibilities.
Making life easier
The symptoms of a stroke can be extremely varied but early recognition is extremely important. A stroke is a medical emergency and swift treatment can make a significant difference to the outcome. Governments have therefore been keen to promote public awareness campaigns that focus upon recognition of key indicators such as facial weakness or drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty.
Following a medical scan, immediate forms of treatment will sometimes include administering anticoagulant or clot-busting drugs to help restore blood flow or even surgery to stop the bleed or remove whatever is causing the obstruction.
After the initial emergency has been dealt with, family carers will then face the task of making whatever changes are necessary to accommodate the individual’s new needs. These changes will depend largely on the extent and severity of the person’s symptoms but, particularly in the early days, they will almost certainly entail changes to working routines and may also require adaptations to the home. This is particularly relevant in cases where the individual has been left with limited mobility or symptoms such as reduced vision, balance or dexterity.
During this period, the assistance of voluntary and charity groups can be invaluable because they can provide useful information, practical advice and a degree of emotional support at a time when the whole family may be under considerable stress and experiencing great anxiety.
For the individual, good, close contact with family and friends can help to allay depression or any sudden sense of isolation that can easily follow after such a significant, potentially life-changing event. It might be reassuring to point out that of those who survive a stroke, about 30% will regain full independence within three weeks and 50% will make a recovery within 6 months. Although some disability is likely to remain, it is by no means certain that the individual will require constant, long-term care.
Every stroke case will be different but all individuals and families who are affected by it can benefit from well established support organisations and a wide range of very effective daily living and rehabilitation aids.
The effects of a stroke can affect almost every aspect of an individual’s daily life and, depending on their severity, they can make many ordinary tasks difficult or even impossible. On the other hand, the symptoms might be relatively mild and short term, in which case, family care may extend only to making the person feel more comfortable whilst they recover. Consequently, there is an enormous range of care products that could potentially be of assistance, from specialist mobility aids to simple gadgets that can help with every chores or activities. Some examples of practical aids are listed below.
Moving and handling
If a stroke has left a family member immobile or unable to walk, carers can make use of many different moving and handling aids. Examples include handling belts, ceiling hoists, stand aids and repositioning kits, all of which help to minimise the risks and physical effort involved in helping the person to move.
In many cases, people who have suffered a stroke will experience weakness or instability but they will remain able to walk. In such cases, mobility aids such as walking therapy frames, rollators and sturdy household trolleys can all play a part in facilitating independent mobility. For those who cannot walk, there are also many electric wheelchairs and attendant propelled wheelchairs to choose from.
For those who have suffered a stroke, using the toilet or bathroom can be challenging, so families might like to consider a range of bathing aid products that help people to preserve their dignity and independence. Example include toilet frames, bath lifts, bath hoists and shower commode chairs but there are many other similar aids available.
Incontinence can be an issue for some people who have suffered a stroke, so there may be a need for different products to safeguard clothes and bedding against accidents. Fortunately, today’s continence aids – such as absorbent pads, stretch pants and ergonomically shaped pads – are very discreet and provide effective protection whilst preserving personal dignity.
Rehabilitation will often require a certain amount of physiotherapy and exercise, so manufacturers have produced an extensive collection of exercise balls, hand exercisers and resistive bands that can be used to regain strength and co-ordination.
Support and information
Families supporting a relative who has suffered a stroke might find the following organisations and websites useful as sources of advice and information.
- Brain & Spine Foundation – www.brainandspine.org.uk/stroke
- Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust – www.thedtgroup.org/brain-injury
- Care Quality Commission – www.cqc.org.uk
- Carers UK – www.carersuk.org
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk
- Speakability – www.speakability.org.uk
- The Stroke Association – www.stroke.org.uk
- Stroke4Carers – www.stroke4carers.org
- TalkStroke Online Community – www.stroke.org.uk/talkstroke