by Marie Santangelo for Today’s Caregiver
The word “stroke” conjures up feelings of anxiety and fear even when it has not touched our lives personally. When caregivers of stroke patients face the reality of stroke and its aftermath, anxiety and fear pervade care.
Often, we second guess our decisions as we care for others, but the second guessing becomes more vivid when loved ones have acute issues, like stroke. We worry that we did not give medication properly, stress over small arguments that may have “caused” the incident, and more.Depending on the degree of impairment after a stroke, our own health may take a turn into neglect as we pour more of ourselves into caregiving. If we can put ourselves into a mindset that incorporates self care into our daily routine, we will be less apt to dismiss our needs.
Television, radio, and publications offer information about stroke awareness and prevention. Rather than feel overwhelmed with the amount of data available, a caregiver can view the many sources as resources to be drawn upon, a little at a time. Health tips, cautions, dietary suggestions, and other advice from these resources can be incorporated into the family structure to make everyone healthier.
Nutrition And Stroke
After a stroke, the body begins its process of repairing itself with the help of medical supervision and caregivers. The amount of disruption a stroke causes varies from one body to another, but all bodies require adequate nutrition to sustain and repair tissue.
Caregivers face new challenges after meeting with doctors and dietary staff who suggest medication and meal changes. There may be frustrating advice on portion control, spice usage, and fluid regulation that can make caregivers feel as though their homes are being turned even more upside down.
If we look at how the changes can benefit the entire family, the changes we make will create better health for everyone involved. Even when family members have different health conditions, an overall evaluation of current eating habits against improved eating habits will manifest positive changes. Caregivers are at the helm of guiding their loved ones toward a healthy lifestyle, and the pressure of having to create different meals only adds to stress.
Loved ones know the impact their illness has on the family and may struggle against using special utensils or following a dietary change. When a caregiver takes control and incorporates changes in diet and exercise into the family matrix, everyone benefits. There are no excuses for why dietary changes aren’t followed because there are no differences in “who gets what.”
Stroke can diminish the capability to chew and swallow. The patient who enjoyed vegetables and salads may not be able to handle these larger pieces. Adapting to chopped salads and vegetables can be an option. Wilted or “cooked” salads have made their way into finer restaurants and can be featured on your dinner table. This simple change in a meal will offer everyone at the table something new to try together.
Mealtime is favored by many households as a time to get together, chat, and connect. Food, its taste and presentation bring people together in many ways. Instead of caregivers feeling stress about preparing more than one meal type, new dishes can be served and evaluated.
Since the taste of food may be altered after a stroke, and the patient placed on a sodium restricted diet, suggestions for flavoring can be obtained from the dietitian. Asking about products like dulse or seaweed to replace salt is an option. They also add healthy minerals to dishes in ways iodized salt doesn’t.
Soups can be an easy option as an entrée as long as a caregiver is not required to monitor fluid intake and output. Even when fluid is restricted, a balance can be found by changing portion size to fit the fluid intake restrictions. Stews and other broth-based items like gravies and sauces have to be included in fluid intake as well. However, this is where portion control for the whole family comes in, and is an advantage.
Jar sauces provide a great deal of convenience when cooking, but the sodium content and other additives may be deemed off limits after a stroke. A caregiver may be encouraged to cook with fresh ingredients, but this may not be practical on a day-to-day basis. However, cooking ahead and keeping some things frozen may be a way to save time and stress while using homemade ingredients. The time spent one day will be saved by reheating on following days.
Sauces and gravies work well when reheated carefully. A crock pot can be set on low at day’s start, with the meal ready by dinnertime.
Whole grains like amaranth can be cooked well and mixed with other cereals like grits or oatmeal. Amaranth has a surprising quality of being very gravy-like in consistency, and can work as a gravy alternative. Since it also holds other flavors well, small amounts of honey and cinnamon or other “warm” spices keep away the salt factor while retaining flavor.
It takes time to be willing to experiment with “health” foods, but the people who work in these stores can offer cooking ideas. Certain foods do not do well being frozen (tofu) or reheated, but labels explain enough to make it easy.
Finding alternatives to butter and oil can also be found in health food stores. Omega oils, sold by the bottle, double as salad dressings or spreads, and carry flavors as well as butter or margarine. Many oils, like flax seed oil, cannot be heated, but referring to the label provides the information needed.
Studies show that by raising “good” cholesterol, the effects on the body equal those of lowering “bad” cholesterol.
What this means to caregivers is that everything we do (and some things are easier than others) to improve the health of our loved ones—and ourselves—has an effect. Whether we are talking about more exercise, a change in diet, relaxation therapy—any positive change, it works toward everyone’s well being