Once you've started on your treatment plan—which may include lifestyle changes, medication, or both—you may be wondering what else you can do to adjust to your life after a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack or "mini-stroke"). You may be struggling with the emotions that come with experiencing a life-changing health event, and knowing you have an increased risk of it happening again.
Everyone's recovery is unique—and has its own unique timeline. But there's a lot you can do to help manage both the physical and emotional roller coasters of stroke recovery.
Some tips for managing life after a stroke: (click on a topic to expand)
Talk openly about your fears and concerns
It's normal to be scared, depressed, or anxious after a stroke or TIA. You may worry about your risk of another stroke, how any lasting disabilities will change your life, and the uncertainty of what's to come. It's important to get these fears out in the open. Tell your healthcare team—and your family—how you feel, so they can understand and help you through.
Get to know your rehab team
Depending on the severity of your stroke, you may need rehabilitation therapy—either at home or at an inpatient rehab center. Rehab may include physical, speech, or occupational (working on everyday skills like dressing and eating) therapy.
Rehab can be difficult and frustrating at times. But remember that the goal of rehab is to help you improve your physical, mental, and emotional functions—so you can get back as much independence as possible. As you work with your rehab team, get to know the people helping you. That way, you'll feel comfortable expressing your feelings and concerns.
Do as much as you can for yourself
Getting back your independence is a big part of your recovery. You may begin to feel more confident as you do things—like getting dressed or eating—on your own. If you're having trouble with these activities, there are many ways to help make them easier.
To make it easier to dress yourself:
- Avoid clothes with tight sleeves, armholes, pant legs, and waistlines
- Avoid clothes you have to pull over your head
- Wear clothes that open and close in front
- Do your best to find clothes with Velcro instead of buttons, zippers, and shoelaces
To make eating easier, go to a medical supply store—or even online—to find tools
- Forks, spoons, and knives with bigger handles for easy gripping
- Rocker knives that allow you to cut food with one hand
- Rings you can put on your plate to keep food from being pushed off
Find ways to keep doing the things you love
Yes, your abilities may have changed. But that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy many of your favorite activities. In fact, enjoyable activities can help to ease stress, make you feel better about your life, and help connect you to others. Most activities can be adapted so that you can keep doing them—even if you're in a wheelchair or need help standing:
- Look for large-type or audio books if you love to read but have vision issues
- Look for special clamps and other materials to hold fabric in place if you enjoy sewing but have issues with your hands
- Bring the plants inside to the windowsill if you like gardening but can no longer get down on your knees in the dirt
- Look for ways to get out of the house and into your community, whether it's at the movies, the library, or the park
It's normal to feel overwhelmed after a stroke. And it's also normal to feel discouraged as long-term recovery begins to slow in the months after you get home. You may even find that you need to find new—or modified—activities that fit with your new physical limitations.
Creating a plan, with the help of your family and caregivers, can help you feel more in control over your recovery. And setting short, attainable goals can help you keep from getting discouraged when recovery seems slow.
Keep in mind that your goals should be:
- Realistic: What can you reasonably accomplish with your new limitations?
- Flexible: How can you leave room for unexpected changes?
- Broken out into specific areas: What can you accomplish to improve your physical rehabilitation and your recreational interests and social activities?
- Measurable: How will you know when you've accomplished your goals?
Be sure to take your time and plan both short-term goals—like walking around the block—to keep you focused on successes as well as related long-term goals—like joining a walking club—to achieve your full potential.
Join a support group
Socializing is also important for your recovery. Your family and friends can be an excellent source of support by helping you to plan and join in social activities and keep in contact with others.
You may also want to consider joining a support group, where you can meet other people who can relate to what you're going through. A support group can be a place to share your story and your concerns, get tips from other stroke survivors, and make new friends. You can find a local support group through the National Stroke Association. Just call 1-800-STROKES or visit www.stroke.org, look for the "Recovery" section, and choose "Stroke Support Groups."
Learn as much as you can about your condition
As with any health condition, it's important to stay informed. That way, you have the information and motivation you need to partner with your doctor and do your part to help manage your risk of a subsequent stroke.
You can get additional support through the AGGRENOX Taking Smart Steps™ program and several national organizations and other resources.
Next: Ongoing Support