Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the U.S., affecting 795,000 Americans each year.

A condition that occurs when blood flow is blocked to an area of the brain, the first occurrence of stroke frequently leads to another: One out of every five survivors will have a second stroke within five years. Each stroke is different, and so is recovery for everyone who survives. Families and friends can play a vital role in the rehabilitation process by acting as caregivers. During stroke recovery, caregivers assist with doctors appointments, medication management, exercises, transportation and personal care as well as offer emotional and other support. The National Stroke Association (stroke. org) provides a wealth of information for caregivers, including numerous educational materials, guides and resources.

For a stroke survivor that returns home, a care coordinator at the hospital or rehab facility can arrange for home health care services, including delivery of needed medical equipment (wheelchairs, beds, etc.). Another task is scheduling supportive professionals such as nurses, therapists and aides that come to the home on an intermittent basis. As a caregiver, you can effectively initiate the caregiver process by working closely and cooperatively with the care coordinator and his/her team to make the transfer to home as uneventful as possible. Write down your questions. Keep notes of responses for future use. Be patient.

If your loved one is going to a nursing home or rehab facility before returning home, seek recommendations from physicians, nurses and therapists to help ensure the facility is well-respected in the medical community. The facility should be noted for impressive patient care outcomes. Medicare.gov can be used as a starting point for this research. Also, consider convenience of the location for family members to visit, and take a tour of the facility before agreeing to use it.

Once the loved one is home, you’ll need to be aware of what might seem like simple but very important things such as properly cutting up food to prevent choking. Many stroke survivors have swallowing issues that should be assessed by a health care professional.

Another important caregiving role is to be mindful of how your loved one is coping depression, anxiety and even dementia are some of the emotional and behavioral conditions that can be present. As a family member, you may pick up on coping issues that others may not. Share these with health care professionals as well. Caregiving also involves tasks such as handling financial matters when the stroke survivor cannot. This may involve arranging to have a power of attorney in place. Talk with your attorney and initiate the handling of legal and business affairs for your loved one.

Lastly, remember that caregivers have to care for themselves as well, even as life gets busy and hectic. Don’t feel guilty about it. Eat well, rest, exercise maybe take a daily walk to relieve stress or think things through. Many communities also have reputable organizations that offer respite services, in which a trusted individual comes in to sit with the patient and let the primary caregiver get out for a while to run errands, keep your own doctor appointments, get a haircut, see a movie or visit others. This also can give your loved one an opportunity to increase socialization. Support groups are helpful to share similar circumstances and relieve stress with peers. Agencies that offer these types of services can often be identified through the hospitals care coordination department or even the local United Way.

A crucial step in minimizing strokes long-term effects is recognizing when one might be occurring. Think FAST. It’s a simple way to remember the signs of an impending stroke and seek help immediately.

Face-Does one side of the FACE droop? Ask the person to smile.

Arms-Does one arm drift downward? Ask the person to raise both ARMS.

Speech-Is SPEECH slurred or strange? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase.

Time -Call 911 and get to the hospital NOW if you observe any of these signs.

Karen L. Talbott, MS, CPA, FHHC, is the retired President of Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates, Ohios largest comprehensive home health care system, along with a 171-bed skilled nursing facility. She was previously a client service executive with Ernst & Young, specializing in the health care industry with primary focus on hospitals and home health care. She is also a Fellow of Hospice and Home Care, one of only a few thus designated in the U.S. by the National Association for Home Care.