What Not to Say to a Stroke Survivor

After a stroke, everyone in the stroke survivor’s life needs to adjust. Most recovering stroke survivors benefit from social interaction, and science shows that talking and expressing feelings helps stroke survivors optimize the process of stroke recovery. 

How can you be a shoulder to lean on so that the stroke survivor you care about can reap the benefits of social interaction? If you are approachable and easy to talk to, a stroke survivor might feel that she can open up to you- and just talking about her feelings can help her mood and her recovery.


But, maybe you want to be approachable and you don’t know how. One of the things that people usually look for after a major event such as a stroke is the sense of acceptance and emotional safety. A stroke survivor will pull away if it seems that you might be judgmental or full of pity. Here are 5 things you should never say to a stroke survivor. 


1. It's no big deal 

A stroke is a big deal in several ways. Aside from the handicaps caused by a stroke and the new lifestyle adjustments, a stroke is undoubtedly a brush with death. Every stroke survivor is living with lost abilities and also the realization that it could have been much worse. 


2. Just put your mind to it and you will get better 

Physical therapy and exercises can help improve abilities and prevent complications such as muscle atrophy and spasticity. But a stroke is a real biological event. The most motivated stroke survivor can reap the benefits of hard work during rehabilitation, but there are limitations.

Telling a stroke survivor to try harder is not usually helpful, because she is trying as hard as she can to do her part in her own recovery. 


3. Stop being so negative 

A positive outlook has been proven to help in stroke recovery. Yet the reality is that everyone is entitled to feel negative sometimes.

And, even more importantly, being able to talk about feeling down without being judged can actually help reduce those very feelings of sadness and despair after a stroke. Just listening without judging or giving your opinion is valuable.


4. 'It'

If you can't even bring yourself to verbalize that your friend had a stroke or uses a walker, your reluctance to talk about it is going to make your friend feel worse than if you just say it outright. Even worse than saying ‘it’ about the stroke and the effects of the stroke is using euphemisms to describe what happened. Referring to the event as a stroke actually makes the stroke less powerful than if you can’t call it what it is.


5. I really don't know if I should say this but...

Whatever it is you want to say, whether he is drooling while he eats or whether she didn't button her buttons properly, a preamble of 'I didn't know if I should bring this up,' makes you seem as if you are occasionally insincere. This makes the stroke survivor wonder if people are hiding things from him.

If you think she can handle it, say it gently, but don't create a wall that makes her paranoid. If you don't think she can handle it, or if you aren't that close, it is better not to bring up your concern or discuss it with someone who can better relay your message than to be wishy washy. 'There is something I want to tell you, but I don't know if I should say it,' is not what your friend needs to hear.


We all put our foot on our mouths sometimes. If you say the wrong thing and wish you could ‘unsay’ it, don’t be too hard on yourself and give yourself another chance to be a good friend. Most people give second chances! Find more tips on what to say to a stroke survivor and how to help a stroke survivor.



Promoting psychosocial wellbeing following stroke using narratives and guided self-determination: a feasibility study, Kirkevold M, Martinsen R, Bronken BA, Kvigne K, BMC Psychology, February 2014

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