Visiting a Friend After a Stroke

Updated on August 10, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

It's upsetting when someone you know suffers a stroke, especially if they are young.

Hand-holding offers comfort and reassurance. Touch is important.
Hand-holding offers comfort and reassurance. Touch is important. | Source

A Stroke Can Occur at Any Age

A stroke happens suddenly and has life-changing effects. It is mainly a disease that occurs in older people, but a significant number of younger people are also affected. A friend of mine suffered a stroke when she was 50 years old, and the shock to her friends and family was devastating. She is still unable to speak or feed herself even now, many years later. She is quadriplegic.

Medical professionals concentrate on giving emotional support to family members. In contrast, friends and acquaintances are left to process the upsetting news for themselves. I experienced an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It is difficult to know what to do and how to act when you are visiting someone who is unable to respond.

Hold on to the fact that the person you knew and loved is still present. Just because they cannot speak or smile does not mean they are not pleased to see you and excited by your visit. For an understanding of what stroke patients need from their friends, I recommend My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. The book is written by a health professional who had a stroke at the very young age of 37.

How to Behave With a Loved One After a Stroke

Demonstrate empathy and understanding by following these guidelines.

  • Don't assume they can't understand what is being said. Never say anything you wouldn't want your loved one to hear.
  • Include them in communication even if he or she seems unable to speak or understand. Treat them with dignity.
  • Know when your loved one is tired. Respect your loved one's privacy.
  • Encourage them to be as independent as they can be. Give him or her an interesting and stimulating setting.

This Is What a Stroke Does To Your Body

Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States.

Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.

Strokes can and do occur at ANY age. Nearly one fourth of strokes occur in people under the age of 65.

— US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A stroke can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis. A patient may need to use a wheelchair.
A stroke can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis. A patient may need to use a wheelchair. | Source

Coming to Terms with Disability

When a friend has a severe long-term illness or illness your emotions go into overdrive. You react in a similar way to someone who is bereaved. It is not unusual for you to experience the five stages of grieving. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial: At first you do not want to believe that your best friend has had a stroke. You feel numb and shocked.

Anger: Reality strikes and you feel helpless. You hit out at other people to vent your anger at the illness. This is the stage I was at when I wrote about visiting Hope and resenting the presence of her care-worker.

Bargaining: This is the stage where you may have “If only I had done such-and-such, I could have prevented this illness” type of thoughts. Or you may turn to prayer to ask for a speedy recovery of your friend.

Depression: Remembering the happy times, crying over the loss of what might have been. Talking about this with other people who knew Hope helped me cope with these sad feelings. Occasionally I still feel sad about the loss of my “old” friend, but I am mainly now at the acceptance stage of the grieving process.

Acceptance: This stage can take many months or even years to reach. This is the end of the grieving process and is an acceptance of the reality of the situation. You are able to move forward with your life without dwelling on the loss of the “old” friendship. You have not lost that person forever.

You may have to make changes to the way you communicate. Talking and listening, eye contact and touch are ways we interact with each other. When your friend loses their ability to do these things, it is easy to stop doing them too. But you can still talk and listen, smile and nod, and hold your friend’s hand. These small gestures offer reassurance and comfort and will help both of you to remain good friends.

Old photos can spark memories.
Old photos can spark memories. | Source

How to Have a Conversation with a Stroke Survivor

It can be daunting to have a conversation with someone who cannot respond. Here are some tips that will make the task easier and more enjoyable for both of you.

  • Speak slowly and pause often. Give your friend time to digest each idea before moving onto the next.

  • Do not shout or talk more loudly than you would normally. Your friend is not deaf! They can hear you but may not always understand the meaning of the words.

  • Speak to your friend in an adult manner. Do not talk down to them, they have not become a child. They may have lost their ability to respond, but they have not lost their mind.

  • Use visual aids to help the conversation. You could use photos or objects, maps or a calendar.

Stages of Stroke Recovery

What Gift Should You Take When Visiting a Friend After a Stroke?

The best gift you can give when visiting a friend is time. Do not be afraid of visiting them after they have had a stroke. You may find it upsetting to see them with impaired mobility, but try and act normally and visit for short periods, but often.

Inside their changed body, the heart and soul of your old friend is still present. They will appreciate your friendship and news of the outside world. If you really want to take something, then some photographs or objects that spark memories are a good idea. You will find these a useful icebreaker to talk to your friend about what been happening in your life lately.


Further Information on Communicating With Stroke Survivors

The following organizations have advice and information on their websites for stroke survivors, their families and friends.

Comments

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  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    12 months ago from Houston, Texas

    This is good information to know. We once had a friend who suffered a stroke at a relatively early age. Sadly he died prior to gaining back full mobility and ease of speaking.

    My mother-in-law also died after suffering a series of strokes. It can be devastating to not only the person who has had the stroke, but family members as well.

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