What to Say to Someone Who’s Had a Stroke

If you’re like most people, when you visit someone in the hospital who is seriously ill, you’re frequently at a loss for what to say to them. If they’re elderly and have just suffered a stroke or illness that has left them confused and/or unable to communicate easily, it becomes even harder to know what to say.

Neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD suffered a significant stroke at age 37. She has since written a book called My Stroke of Insight, about her experience, in which she shared what she needed from her visitors:

I needed people to come close and not be afraid of me. I desperately needed their kindness. I needed to be touched – stroke my arm, hold my hand or gently wipe my face if I’m drooling. I know it can be very uncomfortable for a healthy person to try to communicate with someone who has had a stroke, but I needed my visitors to bring me their positive energy. Since conversation was obviously out of the question, I appreciated when people came in just for a few minutes, took my hands in theirs, and shared softly and slowly how they were doing, what they were thinking and how they believed in my ability to recover.”

stroke victims, stroke recovery, what to say to someone who's had a stroke, elderly people, stroke patients, how to communicate with a stroke survivor, communication for stroke victimsA study published in 2008 by nurses and doctors at Queens University in Canada (The psychosocial spiritual experience of elderly individuals recovering from stroke: a systematic review) concluded that in the days leading up to a stroke and the early days right after a stroke, stroke patients are most likely to be confused and frightened.

How to Communicate With a Stroke Survivor

If their ability to understand, hear or speak is impaired because of the stroke or medical equipment (ie, breathing tubes), then use simple methods to communicate.

  • Make eye contact
  • Make physical contact – hold their hand or touch their arm
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Unless they have suffered hearing loss, you don’t need to speak more loudly than usual, but it may help to emphasize key words
  • Ask simple questions that would require only yes or no answers, and suggest simple responses to indicate yes or no, such as squeezing your fingers, blinking, or making gestures.
  • Give them time to respond verbally and/or physically

Tip: If you send a get well card to someone who’s had a stroke, tuck a picture of yourself inside

For more information about stroke recovery and communication for stroke victims, consult these resources:

MyStrokeofInsight.com – resources, inspiring stories, and tips for stroke victims, their friends and families.

Heart and Stroke Foundation (Canada)

American Heart Association

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