Don’t forget the caregiver – why caregivers of stroke survivors need some TLC too

June 4, 2018

When a stroke survivor comes home from the hospital, everyone’s focused on helping him get better. But, behind the scenes of all the rehabilitation, the caregiver suffers too. Suddenly, caregivers now have to take over many of the tasks that the stroke survivor can no longer do and make sure that their loved one is getting the care he needs. Demands get heavier on their shoulders. As a result, their family and social lives suffer, and some of them have to quit their jobs. In the end, the caregiver’s health takes a toll too.

How do caregivers fare after their loved one comes home?

What is the real burden of stroke on a caregiver? A team of researchers decided to look into what happens to these wonderful people who are always putting others first. They reviewed the current literature that studied the valued activities of stroke caregivers. They wanted to see the consequences of a stroke on these activities. In addition, they looked at strategies that could help caregivers maintain them.

Scientists found 30 studies that fit the bill. As expected, these selfless caregivers would almost always push aside their own needs immediately, quitting valued activities to take care of their loved one. Many of the activities that suffered included social or leisure activities, exercising, work, cultural events, shopping, cooking, chores, household tasks, sex, outdoor activities, and traveling. As time passed, many caregivers would eventually adapt to new routines, daring to leave their loved one alone more often so they could pursue some of their former interests.

Why is it important for caregivers to take time for themselves?

Why is it important for caregivers to maintain their valued activities? It turns out the more time caregivers took for themselves, the better their mental and physical health. Increased leisure activities led to higher vitality, less strain, and lower rates of depression. Caregivers who worked more reported higher rates of depressive symptoms.

It seems pretty clear that caregivers need some TLC too. It’s important for doctors and nurses to explain to caregivers that they sometimes do need to think of themselves. Most caregivers are very giving and selfless people, which is why they take on this role in the first place. But remembering that they need to take time for themselves and maintain activities and interests of their own actually helps them have the right mindset to help take on a nurturing role. However, finding time for ‘extra’ stuff is especially hard during the initial phases after a stroke.

A word of advice for caregivers of stroke survivors

If you’re a caregiver, don’t forget that you have needs too and there is no need to feel bad about them. Being a caregiver is a taxing yet important role. Whether you’re taking care of a loved one or a client, you still need to take care of yourself. Think of it this way – if you don’t take care of your health, how can you be strong enough to take care of someone else? Don’t be afraid to take some time for you! If you’re having trouble juggling your new responsibilities, especially in the initial stages of your stroke survivor’s recovery, reach out to your healthcare provider for help. There are ways to help minimize the time you need to spend caregiving so you can maximize the time you can take for yourself.

The lead author of this study is Sandra Jellema, Scientific Institute for Quality of Healthcare, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Editorial note:

Don't be afraid to take some time for you! If you're having trouble juggling your new responsibilities, especially in the initial stages of your stroke survivor's recovery, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

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