After a Stroke/Brain Injury

Stay active in every sense

Bead work is an activity I do to keep my brain working

Every stroke/brain injury affects survivors differently; some survivors may exhibit aggressive behavior and somewhat of 'split personality.' Others may experience severe sensory/auditory challenges as well as sensitivity to noise and lights. Another post-stroke/brain injury challenge is eating; survivors are highly prone to choking on solids and liquids, therefore, they need to be supervised carefully while eating their meals. Many experience a loss of taste buds. Survivors need to establish a routine using calendars, to-do lists, and other means that'll help them organize their daily life. It's important to make sure things have labels and remain in the same place to make it easier for survivors to access; change of location can cause survivors unnecessary anger, rage, or frustration, and rage is another very real challenge for stroke/brain injury survivors, so they need to find a safe and harmless outlet. It's important to offer survivors different kinds of activities to do according to their comfortable abilities and safety; don't stress them out or they may become aggressively violent. Not every survivor will face these challenges, but caretakers need to be ready to diffuse the situation without putting themselves or a survivor in danger.

After a stroke/brain injury, it's important to begin therapy as soon as the survivor feels safe, confident, and comfortable doing so, and their medical team approves; by this I mean therapy that's not prescribed by doctors necessarily. For example, writing or keeping a diary/journal, learning music or new language(s), or how to play an instrument are essential for recovery, as are socializing, volunteering, walking, exercising, doing word searches, and doing arts and crafts. The idea is to keep mind and body engaged so the brain can create new pathways. 

It's important to create a support network because stroke/brain injury survivors are highly prone to depression, and without medical intervention can lead to suicide. Keeping mind and body healthily and productively busy is one way to prevent depressive episodes. Many brain injury survivors tend to isolate themselves, and that's a very dangerous and unfortunate situation; it's not the survivor's willing choice to live in isolation at times, brain injury survivors tend to become anti-social and may feel inept and inadequate being around other people. Also, their 'filters' may still be out of whack, and survivors may say or do things that can potentially get them in trouble with family, friends, community, and law enforcement. Many survivors take social skills classes to relearn proper social etiquette. 

Another challenge survivors face is their inability to form or keep inter-personal relationships, and that can actually cause feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem. Support groups can address all these challenges and more, but if the survivor doesn't participate, nobody can do anything to convince participation. Family support and encouragement, along with education on the subject makes a huge difference because stroke/brain injury, like any other medical challenge, becomes a family affair. Families need to be sensitive to the needs of their loved one, a support that won't judge or demean the 'new' family member. In order to better help survivors, families need to ask or get their input and not make assumptions of their mental state; never tell a survivor he/she 'needs professional help,' as that'll be a trigger nobody wants to face. Also, families need to be discretely vigilant of behavior or changes after survivors begin a new medication, and immediately let health care providers know about the new observations; survivors may be having a negative reaction to the medication, and doctors need to re-assess treatment. 

Don't underestimate the opinions or concerns of the survivors because it could be a matter of life or death. Get a second opinion if the current provider is not available or refuses to listen because it happens and puts survivors in real danger again. Survivors often fall victim to unscrupulous medical practitioners and need to have resources for help. Many medical practitioners won't listen to survivors therefore, it's important that a reliable, responsible family member or advocate accompany the survivor. Encourage the survivor to speak up if he/she feels the practitioners aren't listening or addressing current feelings or concerns, but don't force survivors if they don't feel comfortable speaking up; they may feel threatened or intimidated by the practitioner.

Martina R. Gallegos
Martina R. Gallegos

Ms. Gallegos came from Mexico as a teen; she went to university, and got her teaching credential.She graduated with her M.A. June 2015 after a severe stroke. Works have appeared in Silver Birch Press, Lummox, https://poetry309.wordpress.com

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After a Stroke/Brain Injury