After a stroke, which is usually confirmed with a CT Brain Scan, persons might be left paralysed, may have speech and swallowing problems or psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety. Complications from stroke can also include pneumonia, impaired vision and loss of independence. It can be scary for the patient and their family, but recovery is possible with proper support. (Check out this quick guide to a stroke to learn more about what a stroke is, the symptoms and what happens afterward).
For many recovering stroke patients, short term goals would be to improve mobility and functioning, and to make sure that swallowing and speech problems are addressed. Long term, most persons wish to get back to their regular lives as much as is actually possible.
How can stroke patients and their families achieve this? The answer is stroke rehabilitation as well as physical aides to help the person function.
Unfortunately, many hospitals in the Caribbean lack the resources to provide proper rehabilitation support to stroke patients in the weeks, months or years after a stroke. However, private resources are available if you are willing to seek them out.
Good healthcare requires a multi-disciplinary approach which means that a team of people is needed to help the person. Stroke rehabilitation is no exception. This kind of team may include a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Neurologist or Psychiatrist. Family members will also need to get involved to arrange visits, assessments, ensure finances are managed, and offer insight on the patient to the health professionals. We have some highly qualified professionals in T&T and the Caribbean. For example, Total Rehabilitation Centre TT or the Stroke and Diabetes Centre in Trinidad may be a good start. Check out our post about the different kinds of professionals available, and scroll down on our 50+ Resources Page for useful contact info in T&T, Barbados and St Lucia.
You may also need to use physical aids like a wheelchair, a walker, foot brace, or grab rails. These are available from medical equipment companies, or you can find out if you qualify for it from your local social welfare department via a grant. Some stroke patients with communication problems can also use technological devices like the T&T made Communicare app, which allows patients to communicate with their family members and caregivers via a smart phone or iPad.
Other options are assistive technology devices which allow people to be more independent and to live safely. They include a wide range of devices which help persons to do everyday tasks which may now be a bit difficult for them, such as cooking safely, making a phone call, turning door handles or getting in and out of a car. These devices are available for sale on Amazon.com.
But these devices often require professionals to help persons learn how to use them successfully. Even things like a walker, which might seem simple, requires knowledge on how to use it properly and avoid accidents or falls. In this case, you can consult with an Occupational Therapist or a Physical Therapist who can help the recovering stroke patient to improve balance, mobility and independence and reduce their risk of falls. Lastly, if there are speech or swallowing problems, you can consult with a Speech and Language therapist.
A stroke can be a traumatic, life changing event for the patient and their family members. Seeking out appropriate healthcare providers for stroke recovery and rehabilitation, as well as investing in appropriate aides and devices to help the person remain independent is therefore key for the long term well-being of stroke patients and their loved ones.
Dr James Bratt, Lead Consultant at Age Caribbean and Geriatric Psychicatrist.