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.”
A 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.
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