Support for stroke survivors is essential for recovery; however, the word “support” can mean many different things. It is a good idea for you to know the different types of support and determine how you best receive and respond to support, so that others know how they can best help you.
What are the different kinds of support?
Instrumental support is the kind of tangible support you receive when someone physically provides for you or assists you with something. An example of this is your best friend coming over to wash your dishes, take your trash to the curb, or bring you a meal.
Emotional support speaks more to having loved ones lift you up with their presence or words to help you with the mental and psychological burden you may be feeling during your recovery. An example of this is your brother sitting by your side and telling you he is there for you while you vent about your frustrations.
Some things to consider to maximize your support network:
- What things do you need physical help with after your stroke? Examples may be related to activities of daily living, such as cutting up your food, helping you get in and out of the shower, or providing steadying assistance while you transfer from your wheelchair to the bed. Other examples may be related to household tasks such as pet care, grocery shopping, or house cleaning.
- What things do you need check-ins or supervision for after your stroke? Examples include monitoring for medication management after you have organized your medicine in a pillbox, checking to make sure there are no errors in bill payment, or looking over your weekly schedule to make sure all of your appointments are organized.
- What type of support do you tend to lean toward when you face general life challenges? You may find that you prefer tangible, physical help with getting things accomplished, or someone to help you tackle a problem by providing you problem-solving options. Or, you may prefer someone to stand by your side and offer validation for how you are feeling and coping.
- What plans do you have for emergencies, and how can family or friends support you? Think about who you would feel the most comfortable calling should a natural disaster take place, should you need to go to the hospital, or even should a less-routine event happen such as a big snow storm or a power outage. Consider making a list of phone numbers and ways that particular people could be helpful, such as driving you where you need to go or bringing over water and bread.
- What specific goals do you have for yourself in order to maintain your independence? Caregivers are often just that - caring! They may try to do too much or assist with things that you can do independently. It is very useful to know ahead of time how they can best lend a hand with what you truly need, while allowing you to maintain your self-efficacy with the things you know you can handle. Having a clear expectation from the beginning may prevent hard feelings down the road.
- What type of feedback or encouragement do you prefer? Again, often caregivers may feel uncertain of how to best support you and would likely do a better job if they knew exactly what helps you the most. You may feel that you benefit from frequent verbal encouragement for even seemingly small accomplishments. Or, you may get annoyed when people acknowledge minor things and it may be better if they wait for a bigger milestone before speaking up. You may want to be held accountable to stick to your plan of how to make progress with a certain task, or this may feel too stressful. Everyone benefits from having more clear-cut instructions for what suits you the most!
Remember, this is your journey. Taking the time to evaluate your own personal needs and lay out how a support person or group of people could best help you may be a bit of work on the front end, but will likely benefit you and your friends and family in the long run.
- Natalie Miller, OTR/LNatalie is an occupational therapist and health writer based out of Richmond, VA. Natalie recently pivoted into the pediatric setting after spending eleven years working in adult neurorehabilitation.