Life after stroke: Tips for daily life

At some point after experiencing a stroke, you will be ready to perform daily chores and run errands. It may be that you haven’t regained your speech and language skills yet. Or that your muscle functions haven’t recovered enough to get dressed, take a bath or perform house chores. Yet your health condition is stable enough to do them. This article will help you with some ideas and tips for daily life and how to perform the aforementioned activities. Life after stroke can be challenging, however it is possible to go around your functional limitations and perform daily tasks in alternative ways.

Communication with others after a stroke

Stroke often affects speech and communication abilities. It is a function that can be very difficult to lose. In fact, research shows that socializing and communicating with others is a great help in order to recover from a stroke. Therefore communication ability is extremely important and should be maintained as much as possible. In order to improve your speech abilities as well as compensate the lost speech function, it is recommended that you come up with alternative ways to communicate and express yourself.

Below are some tips for what you can do:

  • Learn about aphasia if you have it. A person with aphasia cannot talk but understands what others are saying to them. Sometimes they can say certain words and phrases. To learn more about aphasia and other conditions that affect the ability to communicate, read in our article “What are stroke after effects?
  • Involve your family members such that they can learn about your communication needs better
  • Use drawing or writing in addition to your current abilities to express verbally
  • Use gestures or picture books or even a computerized communication system

Your family can help you by asking questions you can answer with yes/no, switching up the difficulty levels in conversations, use gestures to stress on the important points, and can help by correcting you when you are making mistakes while talking. It can also be helpful to come up with a topic before the conversation such that you can prepare yourself better.

The best way to practice this kind of communication would be alone with someone you feel comfortable with. Choose a quiet place without distractions and external noises. With time you will be able to get involved in situations that are not as controlled. It is a good idea to practice common ice breakers and phrases that are used daily before you get in social situations. This will help you feel more confident about yourself and allow for the conversation to go smoother. These can be phrases such as:

  • How are you?
  • It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other!
  • It is nice to see you!

Some may have speech impairments that will be permanent. To get accustomed to those, it is important to evaluate what has worked for you so far and what could be improved with the tools that you have. You might want to attend a session with a speech therapist in order to work on an improvement plan. For example, aphasia patients can have problems talking but they can sing. Therefore, they can use their ability to sing and incorporate it in communication with others. This is an example of how a person can use their current ability in order to socialize with others.

Taking a bath or a shower

In general, it is recommended to use a shower instead of a bath. A shower is safer and you will have a smaller risk to slip and fall when stepping inside and outside of it. However if you need to use a bath, it is recommended to attach a small bath bench at the edge of the bath. To learn more about how to adjust your bathroom and other rooms after a stroke, read in our article “How to create a safe home after a stroke?”. After taking a bath, leave the water in until you climb out of the bath. The water will help lift you and you will be able to step out of the bath more easily.

It is possible to use a special bath bench in the shower as well. You can buy one in any store for home supplies and home goods. You may also want to install a special handle in the shower where you can hold onto. To protect yourself from falling, you can place a bathmat with suction cups outside the shower or the bath. Inside the shower or the bath tub it might be a good idea to place non-skid strips for your safety.

Before showering, make sure you have your shampoo, towel and other supplies you will need while showering and right after to avoid extra walking on wet floor. You can also choose a shampoo and a towel that will be easier for you to use. Choose a thin terry cloth towel to wash or dry yourself (they are also cheaper). Fill your shampoo in pump bottles such that you don’t have to unscrew a lid that can fall. Before entering the water, make sure the water temperature is fine and test it with your wrist or finger. This will protect you from surprise and hurting yourself in case the water is too hot or too cold.

It is best that you have someone else near you while you shower or take a bath. You may want to coordinate with your loved one while they are available and take a shower during that time. For safety you can keep a bell or another object that is easy to get attention with such that if anything happens they can come and help you. If your condition is not as stable and your loved one is going to stay next to you while you shower, they should stand with feet slightly apart for a better balance. That way in case you fall, they won’t hurt themselves and will be able to hold you better.

To wash your strong arm, sit on the bench, put the towel with soap on it in between your knees and move your arm back and forth. As an alternative to drying yourself, you can put on a terrycloth robe and be dry in seconds. To dry your feet, put a small towel on the floor or use slippers that fit tightly around your feet such that water doesn’t drip and make the floor more slippery. If you want to use body lotion or hand lotion, you can use an empty deodorant bottle with a rolling cap and roll it with your strong arm.

Getting dressed

Getting dressed might seem like a simple activity yet it is not so easy for a stroke survivor. While you haven’t completely regained your muscle functions, below are some tips that can help you while you get dressed. In general, start with dressing the affected side with the unaffected arm. To undress, take the clothes off of the unaffected side first and only then from the affected side. It can be helpful to:

  • Choose loose clothing with slippery material. It will be easiest to put it on and take it off
  • Lay out the clothes you want to wear on a surface
  • Get dressed while seated (for example, on the edge of your bed)

When you put on a jacket or a shirt, first put the affected arm in the sleeve. To button it, start buttoning from the bottom. In case you want to wear a shirt with buttoned sleeves, button the sleeve for the unaffected arm before you put it on. To unbutton it, grab the corner of the sleeve with your teeth and maneuver it until the button slips out. Buttoning can be a good practice for improving hand muscle function – put a shirt with buttons in your lap and try to button it and unbutton it a few times.

When putting on socks or shoes, you might want to use a footstool or a threshold to put your foot on. Choose shoes that are easy to put on and take off – those can be slippers, shoes with clips instead of laces, loose boots, etc.

To put on stockings, sit down and cross your affected leg over your unaffected leg. With the strong arm put them over your toes and feet, uncross your legs and pull the stocking up to your knees. Then stand up and pull the stockings all the way up.

To put on a belt, put it through the pants before you wear them. Use the same principle for clothes that also require a belt.

It can be helpful to add little rings to the zipper pulls. This will make zipping jackets, dresses, and other clothing with zippers easier. Instead of using buttons and laces, you may want to choose clothing with clips or Velcro fasteners. There are options for adaptive clothing and you can find them in department stores, online clothing stores and others.

House chores and cleaning

You may be able to perform more tasks in addition to your basic needs. Then you can start to get involved in chores around the house. If you have a loved one who is taking care of you, you can help them with house chores that are easier to do.

For example, you can vacuum your room while sitting on a chair. This can be done by vacuuming the areas in your reach and moving the chair around the room such that you can cover all the area. You may want to get an extension for the vacuum cleaner such that you don’t have to move the chair as often. It can also be helpful to use a chair on wheels. In case you want to wash the floor, make sure you leave dry areas in the room such that you can walk through the room safely while cleaning. It might be difficult to wash the floor if you need to change the water. You can either use disposable cloths or ask a loved one to assist you with changing the water.

There are also other house chores you can do while sitting – for example, laundry. If you have a laundry machine, sit next to it on a chair and use your unaffected arm to put the dirty clothes in. To take out the clean clothes, put a table or another higher surface next to you such that you can put the clean, wet clothes there. They can be heavy so it would be easier if you don’t have to reach far to put them on a clean surface. You can also iron clothes, fold them, clean surfaces around the house and do other chores while seated.

It may seem like those are small tasks and they aren’t too useful for cleaning the house. However such attempts to perform house chores and helping your loved ones can help you feel more confident, instrumental and less of a burden to those around you. You can start by tasks you can do while seated, and do rooms that are smaller and easier to clean. It is likely that you will get tired quickly at first, therefore it is important not to overdo and take breaks when necessary.

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