“But I talk just fine” (December)

By the time you’re reading this, we will be well into the holiday season.  Whatever you celebrate, there seems to be a common theme of gathering, communicating, and enjoying celebratory meals.

Maybe it’s your first holiday season since the stroke, maybe it’s been years. Whether it was you, your spouse, a neighbor, or another family or friend, one thing is true, the way you celebrate holidays will likely change.

Here are a few tips to help brighten the holiday season of a stroke survivor.

1) Allow the stroke survivor to say “no”

The holiday season can be a time of immense pressure. The pressures to cook, entertain, give gifts, or attend events, can be a recipe for disaster for a stroke survivor. A brain may become overwhelmed, causing the survivor to experience more difficulty or fatigue. Make sure you create space for the stroke survivor in your life to say no. Reframe statements such as “Can you bring a side dish” to “If you’d like to bring something, consider _____.” Extend invitations but allow time and space for them to rest and recharge. And if they do say no, do your best to demonstrate empathy and kindness.

2) Set up a successful communication environment

Stroke survivors may experience a variety of communication impairments. This could range from difficulty understanding conversation in background noise, to memory impairment, to the inability to retrieve words. As best you can, try to have one conversation at a time, instead of many cross conversations. Other simple adjustments such as limiting background noise, allowing for more time to answer questions, or saying their name before speaking to them could allow them to feel more confident and involved in the event.

3) Consider a buffet set up

Passing heavy dishes around the table can be exhausting. Now imagine doing it with one arm, poor balance, or visual changes. It may become even more difficult. A buffet set up could allow a stroke survivor to fill their plate (with or without assistance) and settle into their place at the table to enjoy the meal.

4) Don’t exclude them

We’re all human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we over correct when attempting to create a safe and welcoming space for others. Just because the stroke survivor may require changes in your usual routine doesn’t mean they don’t want to participate! Ask questions, play games, take pictures, sing songs. A simple invitation to participate may be enough to help a person feel loved and cared for. Remember to be open to adjustments and if they say no consider asking if there is a change that would let them feel comfortable participating.

5) Ask what is helpful

The truth is, each stroke is different. Every survivor will have different needs and different frustrations. Consider setting aside some time before the holiday to ask them what will help them have an enjoyable experience. Perhaps they need a modified food texture or an earlier gathering. Maybe they learned a game in therapy they would love to share with the family. Maybe they despise being asked, “Do you need help?” It’s amazing what we learn when we ask.

Check back each month as we help break down an overwhelming process piece by piece in our newsletter.

Special requests or questions? Email me today.

Mary Burns, MS, CCC-SLP has been working as a medical Speech-Language Pathologist since 2014. She specializes in working with adults with swallowing or communication disorders, especially after a stroke.

Working across the continuum of care gave Mary a unique perspective on strengths and needs in the rehabilitation system. This developed her passion for advocacy of person-centered care and the inclusion of patient and community education as a part of the recovery process.

Mary was drawn to Stroke Awareness Oregon because of their dedication to breaking down barriers that allow stroke survivors and their loved ones to access the services they need.  She can be reached at contact@overlandslp.com