It can be difficult when a friend goes through any life changing event to know what to say. If you are the friend of a stroke survivor it can be hard to know how to support them. It is normal to feel anxious, you may worry about saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say. We have worked together with stroke survivors and their families to give you some guidance.
What to Expect
The effects of a stroke vary greatly from person to person, making it difficult to give an exact picture of what your friend may be going through. We have listed some of the common effects of a stroke but, it is so important to realise that your friends experience is unique to them. Your friend may be living with one, none or all the common effects associated with a stroke. If possible, talk with your friend or their family beforehand and try to understand how their recovery is going.
Possible Physical Effects
Some survivors live with physical disabilities- the most common being muscle weakness, paralysis, and stiffness (usually on one side of the body). This can mean that your friend may need to use a wheelchair or a walking aid.
Some people still experience these effects but don’t require or use a mobility aid. This could mean that they may walk with a limp or, if their arm has been affected one arm may appear weighted down to one side and not move very much.
A stroke can also cause facial changes most commonly one side of the face may appear to droop more than the other.
It’s important to remember that your friend will be adapting to these changes themselves and they may be self-conscious. Remain calm and relaxed no matter how different your friend may appear and that they are still the same person and need your reassurance and support as they adapt.
In some cases, a stroke can affect communication a disorder called Aphasia. Aphasia can be frustrating for all parties but especially for the person trying to communicate. It can take time to forge a new way to interact with each other. Communication may improve as your friend recovers, or it may be something they continue to live with.
Often the survivor knows exactly what they want to say, but the words may not come out, or may come out jumbled. Be patient and don’t speak on their behalf. Ask your friend or those closest to them what the best way to communicate is, this could mean talking slower and pronouncing clearly or changing the method of communication entirely such as writing things down or using pictures instead.
The emotional impact of a stroke can be huge your friend may appear to have very extreme emotions- this is called emotional lability. Your friend may laugh or cry uncontrollably. This could be because they feel happy or sad but, sometimes emotions can burst out for seemingly no reason. At first this might seem strange but in time this can become something you barely notice. laugh along with your friend if they have the giggles or if they are upset ask them if they are okay and comfort them.
We asked younger stroke survivors and their families what advice they would give to friends and six common themes appeared.
1.Be patient with me
Our members said:
“I have a brain injury, it will heal but it needs time”
“Please show patience and understanding – everyone’s stroke is different”
“Don’t give up on your friend and don’t underestimate them! My mum managed to achieve more than all her doctors expected her to after her stroke, and more quickly than they said she could. This was mainly to do with her own incredible strength and determination, but also because we all supported her every step of the way and never gave up on her recovery. Be patient and most importantly just be there.”
2. Treat me the same way you did before my stroke.
Our members said:
“I remember one night whilst still in hospital having a bunch of friends turn up with take away pizza there were so many that we left the ward and went to the café area, they all treated me the same as always. I think I probably cried!”
“I’m still the same person inside just outside I now walk with a stick, it’s still me my name hasn’t changed!”
“I said to my friends “move on, you’re better off without me- now that I’m not normal’ The response was “nothing’s changed then, you were never normal to start with”
3. Ask me how you can help and follow it through with actions.