Strokes and how they affect us the carers and their victims in ways such as our speech and mobility
I am lucky that in so far in my short 31 years I have stayed healthy and the only people I have had to care for are my husband, mother and young healthy 2year old son. However, many people are not this lucky, many adults, old and young are affected by Strokes or TIA’s (Transient Ischemic Attacks) that can affect anybody at anytime. As a society we tend to associate strokes and TIA’s as a problem that only affects the older population such as the over 80’s. Unfortunately this is not the case, it is actually quite common for people in there 30’s to have strokes, and this can be soul destroying for a family.
Strokes or TIA’s are caused by disturbances of blood flow, which causes a lack of oxygen and glucose to be delivered to the brain, killing the cells. This usually happens when the arteries leading to the brain have become hardened (atherosclerosis) or the small arteries within the brain have narrowed.
What causes strokes?
The most common cause of a stroke is the blockage of an artery in the brain, a clot also known as thrombosis. The main risk factors for this type of stroke are;
High blood pressure (Hypertension)
It is perhaps because of these factors, and the lifestyles that we lead today that so many more young men and women are being affected by strokes and TIA’s.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
If you are one of the unlucky people to suffer a stroke, you will most likely notice some form of weakness, tingling or paralysis down one side of your body. You may also notice a problem with your balance, dizziness, speech or swallowing. If you are suffering only very mild symptoms it is likely that you are having a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) and will recover within 24 –48 hours. During this time however, it is still very important that you receive medical advice as many times small TIA’s can be the warning of a larger possibly fatal Stroke.
What happens now?
One of the most common questions asked by family members of those affected by strokes are “What happens now?”
The answer to this question unfortunately is not as straightforward as it sounds. What happens really depends on the severity of the situation. For some a stroke can be a case of hospitalisation and home in a week, with no severe long-term problems, or for others rehabilitation for a much longer period of time, sometimes even lifelong.
The main areas affected by stroke victims are their speech and a restriction in their mobility. Speech usually comes back within 24-48 hours, and what does not return after this time may not return at all and any chance to do so will require much speech and language therapy. The same really goes for loss of mobility, although this various in which limb it affects, whether it be an arm or a leg. For many it may be an arm that in time with physiotherapy regains its full movement. For others it may be a leg that losses feeling. This again will need physiotherapy to regain full usage, but it can happen. However, for those stroke victims who are harder hit, they may never regain full feeling in their limb which for younger people may mean that they are unable to drive, which with it brings the possibility of other health issues such as depression.
For an outsider it may look like a terrible thing when they see a stroke victim of any age not being able to talk properly or not being able to use their arms or legs, but the reality is that although these people are disabled to a point where they may have had to undergo major changes in the way that they live, they are still able to mobilise one way or another, maybe using mobility scooters and such like.
Many other stroke victims are not so lucky, they are left not just unable to talk, but also unable to swallow meaning that they have to be fed a liquid feed via a peg feed system through their stomach. They may also be completely immobile and bed ridden, unless carers are able to lift them using hoists. For the vast majority of stroke victims with these needs, it means going into a residential care home where they have 24hr care by trained nursing staff. For the families this can be an extremely upsetting time, as most do not wish to see their parents or partners in a care home. I mean lets face it, you always hope that you will be able to care for your partner at home until the day they or you die, but sadly this is very often not a viable option for stroke victims.
I myself have seen all the scenarios above with three different members of my family, and know that if I were going to have a stroke, I want to be either like my uncle alive and able to live normally with no after effects, or dead. Here are my stories.
The first encounter I had of a stroke was my now father-in-law, who had his first stroke whilst in his early 50’s. This stroke affected his speech and right leg, to which he never regained full feeling, which then prevented him from driving a car. Thankfully although he could not drive a car he could still drive a tractor and being a farmer this is probably the only thing that kept a very proud and independent man going. However over the past 14 years he has more subsequent strokes, each time taking a little more from him. His speech is now almost unrecognisable, he walks with a frame and his vision is now also impaired. Since the first stroke hit he has been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, hypertension and a possible cardiac problem as well. But do the severity of the strokes he is unable to do the tests to determine if he has a heart problem or not, and even he does have one he would be unable to have any operations because of the high risk of further strokes. He attends a day centre once a week to get a change of scenery and his wife, my mother-in-law goes to a carers support group which helps her deal with day to day living and caring for him. He has had physiotherapy on and off since the last good stroke which put him in hospital some 3 years ago, but this has made little difference to his quality of life really. Life is not the same for this family, and as you look in as an outsider all you see is a typical proud adult man who has supported his family (wife and 3 sons) for most of his life, to now be dependant on them for everything. He can now only just use the bathroom safely on his own. Is this what we call a life at the age of 69?
My second encounter was my grandmother who was 86 when she had her stroke. She lived a fairly active life with bingo etc most days. Her mobility was already impaired having had a hip replacement and my mother would go in every day to check on her. She was also a Type 2 diabetic who still refused to live by the rules and enjoyed the foods she should not eat! It was my mother who found her that May morning, still in bed, unable to move or talk. She sounded drunk and had vomited heavily. The ambulance was called and she was subsequently admitted to hospital. She suffered more strokes never went home. My mother was deeply upset at the fact that she could not care for her mother any longer and that she had to go into a residential nursing care home. She could no longer communicate, eat or walk. The only thing she could do was move her arms slightly and drink through a straw. After 7-8 months she finally passed away having suffered from pneumonia. Should we really allow people to live like this?
My third encounter was my uncle. He was a fit man who enjoyed playing bowls and golf. He farmed a small farm until one day a friend found him on the floor. He had suffered a stroke and was hospitalised. I continued to have small strokes whilst in the hospital, but after a week or two was discharged and told to take it easy. He was a lucky man, the strokes had done no permanent damage to any part of his body and he was allowed to continue living his life how he wished eventually.
Having been affected by strokes in these difference ways, I know myself that if I ever suffer one I want to be either like my uncle or dead. To me there is no in between, you should be allowed to live life how you did, you should not have to suffer.
Why is it we treat animals with more humanity than humans?