Here is a further post to assist carers who are caring for family members, by my dear friend Helen Delevingne. Please let me know your thoughts on this and if any of you lovely readers want to contribute, please contact me.
The road to recovery after a major stroke – the basics
As I mentioned in my last blog it was a particularly frightening time in my life, caring for my mum, who had suffered from a major stroke five months previous. She was unable to speak. Also, many of the basic emotions we take for granted as human beings had been destroyed; such as empathy, engagement, and understanding and remembering.
For a dyslexic person memory is one of our biggest challenges. I still struggle with my memory to this day. My mum had no recollection of even how to do the most basic of tasks and I would imagine anyone reading this who has had experience of this knows exactly what I am talking about.
I set up goals every day which my mum had to meet:
Washing and dressing– fortunately we had carers in for this area and it was such a blessing. They would teach my mum how to wash and clean her teeth. They would dress her and brush her hair. I loved our carers. During this time, I am so pleased; at last they are being given the praise they deserve.
Making a cup of tea – I would show my mum how to make a cup of tea. Then it would be her turn, with close supervision from me (hot water and a person with brain damage don’t mix particularly well) I knew, if I showed her enough times she would pick it up. This was an important part, for hand and eye coordination and teaching her about the various dangers in the kitchen.
Jigsaw puzzles – These played a major part in the road to recovery for my mum and the brain damage she had suffered. I knew from my own brain if I could only reach the other parts of the brain which had not been damaged from the stroke; then they would take over for the damaged part. Jigsaw puzzles contain a lot of strategy and motor skills, plus they help with vision and coordination.
I started with a jigsaw puzzle containing very large pieces and asked her to do it. I showed her how it worked and then it was over to her and I would check on her progress daily. Put it this way, my mum went from a very large pieced jigsaw puzzle, to such small pieces a few years later, even a professor who was a friend of the family struggled to complete it.
Colouring in – I bought several colouring in books for my mum and asked her to colour the pictures. At first she could hardly hold the pencil and would give up. I wouldn’t give up and I asked her to have another go. This went on with many of the tasks and I cannot stress enough to keep going even when it looks hopeless. The reason for the colouring in was to give her control when using a pen/pencil and the concentration levels in order to complete the task.
Making the dinner and setting the table – This sounds a ludicrous thing to ask of someone who has brain damage, but there was method in my madness. I wanted to give my mum her self-respect and pride back. This had been robbed so cruelly from her. Often the dinner she made was inedible and the table looked like the aftermath after a child’s party.
Undeterred I would sneak back into the kitchen and cook the dinner again. This had no bearing on my mum who never knew what time of day/night it was. I specifically remember the ritual we would go through when she was trying to remove the lid from a yoghurt pot. Again, I would show her how this was done and then ask her to do it. She would attempt it and the lid would not move and so she would hand it to me. I would refuse this and give her back the pot to have another go. After many attempts and a lot of frustration on both our parts, she removed the lid and confidence was restored.
How to greet guests – Sadly as I mentioned earlier, my mum lost all empathy after her stroke and it was not uncommon for a friend to come and visit her and she would leave the poor individual standing at the door while she went and sat down in the living room.
I taught her all the basic manners when greeting someone again and how to ask for their coat and offer them a cup of tea, which by this time she had mastered. She wasn’t keen on this idea and would sulk at being told what to do. It would amaze me how she had regressed to a naughty school child and I was now the parent. Still, she would comply and eventually friends did not feel so uncomfortable visiting her.
Reading and giving limited permission to watch the television – My mum was in the fortunate position in I could give her the full attention she needed, rather than sticking her in front of a television screen. I am utterly convinced both from my own learning difficulty and my mum’s; television is the number one enemy for brain damage. It utterly destroys any chance you may have at bringing the person back and I would strongly suggest limiting this to only one hour or two of viewing per day. Then be careful what the person is watching. Is it educational? Is it helpful?
Before the stroke she was an excellent communicator and an academic. My mum loved words and she loved to write and learn new subjects. Sadly when the stroke took her speech and communication part of the brain, all of this was lost.
Reading was another key and I would encourage her to engage in this activity every day. It did not matter what she was reading as long as she tried. We would often read children’s stories and she would try and say the words to me. Funnily enough her first word to the speech therapist was ‘incidentally’, typically in my mother’s style for it not to be a simple word.
I added in greater tasks when she became confident with the basics, such as; taking a letter to the post box and buying a loaf of bread from the shop. You will judge on the person you are caring for and their capabilities. However, I would stress, don’t be disheartened with minor breakthroughs, you are going back to absolute basics here and with a brain which is trying to repair itself.
I hope this has been of some help to people struggling with the situation I was in.
In my future blog I will share how my mum got on with her goals and how this foundation done on a daily basis helped her to start living an independent life again.