5 Tips for Supporting Stroke Survivors with Hand and Arm Impairment

Recovery after a stroke can be a long and difficult process for both survivors and their caregivers. Stroke recovery not only requires consistent dedication to rehabilitation in order to regain hand and arm function and independence – it also requires the constant support of caregivers and loved ones to help navigate the ups and downs of the recovery journey.  

As a caregiver, you may be wondering how you can best help someone who has had a stroke and is experiencing hand and arm impairment that impacts their daily life. Here are five helpful tips to keep in mind as you support stroke survivors and their journey to regain upper limb function. 

1. Learn More About Their Condition

One of the best things that a caregiver can do to support a stroke survivor is become more informed about their specific condition. It is important to remember that no two strokes are the same and recovery will look different for every survivor. Regardless of whether it’s an ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke, your loved one’s recovery journey is unique, and they will experience different side effects than others who have suffered similar events.  

In order to be the best caregiver to your loved one, it is important to understand the specific elements of their stroke that are causing hand and arm impairment. Consult with your loved one’s medical team to learn more about the location of their stroke, as this can help predict the path to recovery and allow you to provide the best possible care as they work to regain and improve upper limb function.  

2. Understand the Unseen Side Effects of Stroke

When it comes to stroke cases, it is easy to focus primarily on the obvious side effects, such as slurred speech, paralysis and limited motor function. However, some of the most significant stroke symptoms are those that are unseen. While it may seem that a stroke survivor is fine or successfully advancing their journey to recovery, the reality is that they might not be. 

The unseen side of stroke recovery often involves mental wellness. Stroke survivors can experience confusion when they cannot complete basic tasks, which can lead to frustration and outbursts of anger. Many stroke survivors experience anxiety, depression and fatigue when faced with hand and arm impairment – all of which can manifest in the most subtle of ways. If you can learn the numerous cognitive side effects that stroke survivors can experience, you can better understand their behavior and provide more meaningful support in their recovery journey. 

3. Help Explore New Tools for Stroke Recovery

Seeing in how there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to stroke recovery, there are constantly new therapies and innovations entering the market that can help your loved one during rehabilitation. That’s why it is important to support stroke survivors when they want to explore a new technology or intervention to advance their recovery.  

Many comprehensive stroke centers and therapy clinics are embracing these new and innovative interventions as they come to market. Consider having a discussion with your loved one and their medical care team to learn more about rehabilitation options that can work for you all, even interventions that can be applied in a home setting to supplement to outpatient care. The more a stroke survivor can do in the home setting, the more likely they are to improve hand and arm impairment. 

4. Encourage Rehabilitation and Therapy Exercises

The emergence of new technologies to advance stroke recovery means that more meaningful rehabilitation and therapy exercises can take place in the home. Just as occupational and physical therapists facilitate task-specific training in an outpatient setting, caregivers must encourage stroke survivors to practice functional tasks while doing activities of daily living. These exercises can make a significant difference in regaining and maintaining fine and gross motor function that is often lost through hand and arm impairment post-stroke.  

For example, Vivistim® Paired VNS™ Therapy is the first FDA-approved stroke therapy intervention that uses vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to help improve hand and arm function, and it can be easily applied in the home setting. In addition to being therapist directed during occupational therapy or physical therapy, Vivistim can be activated during day-to-day activities like eating, folding laundry or getting dressed. Studies have shown that this paired vagus nerve stimulation helps strengthen the brain connections needed to improve hand and arm function – as much as two to three times more compared to traditional stroke rehabilitation alone. To learn more about how the FDA-approved Vivistim® Paired VNS™ System can help in your recovery, visit this page or our blog for additional information.  

 Each stroke survivor is going to have different needs when it comes to stroke therapy, so consider creating an at-home exercise plan with your loved one’s therapist to determine how you can best engage in meaningful exercise to support stroke recovery. 

5. Be Patient with Gains in Stroke Recovery

Although stroke survivors tend to experience the most rapid gains in recovery during the first three or four months after a stroke, some survivors may require a longer recovery timeline. Sometimes, this can even take years after the initial stroke. 

For chronic ischemic survivors dealing with hand and arm impairment, longer recovery time can be frustrating for all involved, including the caregiver. It is important that caregivers remain patient and encouraging with this timeline, and that you set reasonable expectations when it comes to regaining and maintaining function lost to hand and arm impairment. Be sure to maintain open and positive communication with your loved one during this time, and work closely with their healthcare professionals to set reasonable milestones for regaining and maintaining the gains made in the recovery process.  

Patience can often be encouraged by measuring progress made throughout stroke recovery, with special attention to daily gains in communication and function. Any regressions in these areas should be communicated with your loved one’s care team so that the appropriate interventions can be made at the earliest opportunity.  

Additional Support for Caregivers

It is easy for caregivers of stroke survivors to become overwhelmed, especially in the earliest stages of the recovery journey. To learn more about the resources available to stroke survivors and caregivers, visit unitedstrokealliance.org. To learn more about FDA-approved Vivistim Therapy™ for chronic ischemic stroke survivors and to review safety information, visit Vivistim.com. 

About the Author

Marylee Nunley, started Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp in 2004 three years after her husband, John, suffered an ischemic stroke in 2001. John, was a computer programmer for a Fortune 100 company and while he can no longer read or write, has overcome his aphasia enough to do public speaking about his post-stroke journey. Marylee’s professional experience includes more than 30 years managing different aspects of small business which prepared her for the start of her own non-profit in 2007. Because of the success of Stroke Camps and other programs, in 2016 an umbrella organization was created and now Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp is a division on United Stroke Alliance. Marylee is the recipient of the 25 Women in Leadership awarded in 2005 and in 2009. Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp was the winner of the National Stroke Association’s Raise Award for the Outstanding Group for service to stroke survivors and their caregivers. She resides in Peoria, Illinois with her husband John and enjoys spending time with her family and especially her four grandchildren. 




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To learn more about Vivistim and review safety information, visit www.vivistim.com/safety

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