Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability, and nearly 800,000 people will have a stroke this year. While some will fully recover, others may require assistance from someone known as a caregiver. Providing care to someone who is ill or disabled can be a rewarding experience, but at times, it can also be stressful.

The impact of caring for a stroke survivor

The impact of stroke is not only felt by the survivor, but also the network of those who provide care for the individual. As they provide direct care to their loved one, caregivers can feel challenged by the loss of their own productivity. They, too, can be troubled by the emotional and physical toll that comes with ongoing caretaking, such as:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Financial strain
  • Physical injury

Caregivers and “burnout”

In the book Chronic Illness: Impact and Intervention, burnout is defined as the “mental, emotional or physical exhaustion because of long term exposure to emotionally demanding situations.” In one study of caregivers, three common themes emerged: being worried, running on empty, and losing self. It’s clear that caregiving itself can be a risk factor for decreased health.

Helping the caregiver

Supporting and assisting caregivers, understanding their new role, and offering guidance and coping strategies can all help a caregiver regain their own work-life balance. Events like stroke camps, support groups, and other programs can offer respite and opportunities to share experiences with others in similar situations.

At Rhode Island Hospital, we offer a Stroke Caregiver Support Group that meets monthly to provide a safe and confidential space to discuss the challenges and stresses that come up when caring for a stroke patient, as well as provide additional local resources for stroke caregivers. We also help connect caregivers to national resources for stroke and cerebrovascular diseases.

For more information on stroke, please visit our Comprehensive Stroke Center website.

Melissa M. Harmon, MS, RN

Melissa M. Harmon, MSN, RN, ASC-BC

Melissa M. Harmon, MS, RN, is a registered nurse and manager at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Rhode Island Hospital