Although the obvious result from a major stroke is devastating disability — such as speech impairment, weak hand and leg movement, and depression — a stroke also has an indirect affect on the health of families and friends.
Imagine a very strong and vibrant man, never sick according to legend, good husband, provider, all-in-all a great father. His family, and especially his wife of 45 years, marveled at his strength. He was healthy and looking forward to a peaceful and blessed retirement. Then one day he suffered a major stroke which left him unable to speak and walk. For the family, the confusion and shock were intense. How could this have happened?
This is not a fictional story. It happened in my family. When I first met my future father-in-law I never imagined that some day his life would end up in such a way. However, this same scenario is played out over and over again in many families across the U.S. and around the world. All of a sudden, responsibilities that were performed by the stroke victims are now delegated to other members of the family, and in some cases the majority of responsibility falls on the spouse. From everyday things like shopping or paying bills to new responsibilities like daily trips to the rehabilitation center, feeding, bathing and keeping up with all the medications. Not to mention becoming a motivational guru. All of this could have a tremendous impact on the caregiver's health. In a moment, an ordinary life changes other lives into extraordinary, burdened by the pressure, eased by the love for the ailing family member.
We doctors sometimes forget about the families. Big mistake! While dealing with stroke survivors, it is always important to focus on the family. We MUST listen, and support the changes that are needed, monitor stress and the effect that it has on the people taking care of stroke survivors.
Families take care of each other, they become the pillars of healthcare in the home and improve the outcome that any therapy in the hospital could bring. I remember the look of my mother-in-law as she dealt with her husband's disabilities, a look of love, duty, and compassion. But we must always make sure, that as we take care of others, we take care of our own health. They don't say "in sickness and in health" for nothing.
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Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.