TIA and Minor Stroke

Relationships, friends and family

Partners, friends and other family members often provided much needed support for people during and after they had their TIA or minor stroke. A number of people were with their wife, husband or partner at the time when they experienced their TIA or minor stroke. In some cases it was the husband or wife who called for help, or encouraged the person to seek help (see ‘Seeking help – routes to care’). Most people were shocked and frightened when they realised that they had had a TIA or minor stroke (see ‘Getting a diagnosis and ‘Understanding TIA/minor stroke), and it could also be a worrying time for their family too.
A few people said that they didn’t want their wife or husband to worry about them too much and that it could sometimes be difficult to get the right balance between telling their partner about what was happening and how they felt, and stopping them from being too concerned. In some cases where the spouse had also experienced a serious illness it could also bring couples closer together as they had a shared sense of understanding.
Many people said that their spouse helped and encouraged them to make lifestyle changes, especially diet and exercise (see Lifestyle changes’). Some people needed extra help and support from their spouse when they returned home and it could sometimes be difficult to get the balance right between being supportive and being over protective. Some people said they had lost confidence after their TIA or minor stroke (see ‘Back home) and didn’t want to be left alone too much, but they also didn’t want to be mollycoddled (see ‘Emotions and feelings).
Despite some difficulties in some people’s relationships, most people coped with the changes to their lives and didn’t feel that it had significantly affected things between them. Nobody in our sample talked about difficulties in sexual relationships directly caused by having a TIA or minor stroke, though one woman mentioned that she now finds physical contact difficult. “Touch is very peculiar. Firm touch is fine, light touch is, it’s like flesh crawling. Which is difficult because as I’m married”. Some of the drugs prescribed to treat high blood pressure can have side effects, including erectile dysfunction.
Like Clare (above) some people said that they had become closer to friends and family since their illness, and that it helped them to realise how much their loved ones cared about them. Anne felt emotional about the way friends and family had reacted to her illness and found it difficult to talk about.
Many of the people we interviewed had adult children, most of who lived away from the family home, and some of them lived quite far away. Most people said that when their children first heard about what had happened they were often very worried and concerned, but that generally once they could see that their parent was recovering well it was easier for them. Geoff said that his son now takes him shopping as he isn’t able to drive any more, and his daughter came to visit at the time, but as she lives in Cornwall it wasn’t possible for her to be more actively supportive. Clare’s daughters travelled quite a long way to come and see her, and she said that it was ‘a bit of a wakeup call’ for them realising ‘that mum might not live forever’. Some people said they didn’t want to worry or bother their children too much and so would hold back from telling them too much about how they were feeling. Ros sometimes felt a little bit isolated as she lives alone, and would have liked more support from her adult children, but she said ‘my children are busy people, they have their own lives’.
Michelle was in a slightly different position from most of our interviewees, being much younger than the other participants. Having had both a TIA followed by a stroke at age 26 Michelle found herself having to rely on her parents for care and support which meant that she sometimes felt like a child again. “I guess being so young you don’t expect one day to need your mum and dad to do things for you that you could, yesterday you could do for yourself.” Michelle also talked about how difficult it was to explain her health status to potential new partners. Michelle felt upset because if her TIA’s had been recognised and diagnosed earlier she may not have gone on to have the stroke (see ‘Symptoms’, ‘Getting a diagnosis and ‘Communication with health professionals).
Sometimes other people’s comments could feel insensitive. Clare remembers how her sisters, who were both nurses, told her that they could still see the ‘remnants of stroke’ and she felt hurt as she was trying to focus on her recovery. Conversely, after a time when there were no visible signs left, Clare felt that it could be difficult for friends to recognise that she might still be feeling low or out of sorts.
Gilly summed up how important it is to make sure that you keep talking to friends and family to avoid feeling isolated and alone and to keep your spirits up.

(See also Information and support, ‘Back home and ‘Understanding TIA/minor stroke’.)

Last reviewed August 2013

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