Adapt or Die

The brain is a marvelous thing. It never takes a day off. It allows us to do things without thinking, so to speak. Built-in, automatic, repetitive actions – like walking or talking. Things that may be lost because of a stroke’s damage to the brain.

Because of neuroplasticity, the brain heals itself eventually, and some things lost due to stroke damage may be regained over time, but not without significant challenges.

During recovery, stroke survivors must do things differently, due to weakness or loss of movement in a limb (or loss of memory of how to accomplish such a goal). Could be a simple thing, such as opening a door or flipping a light switch, made difficult or impossible after stroke damage. A very frustrating situation for us. So we adapt out of necessity.

Some adaptations come easily, others must be learned with the assistance of therapists and caregivers. Special tools must be used to do otherwise simple tasks, like opening a jar or carrying an object. Or writing: losing the use of one arm/hand may require the other to write, something not easily accomplished. This may sound strange to most folks – how can a person fail to do such ordinary things, having done them countless times before? Because we lost that ability when we had the stroke that damaged our brains, and must adapt accordingly.

We employ devices such as wheelchairs, quad canes, joint braces, AFOs or subluxation slings to assist us in movements. Handrails help us climb stairs and use the bathroom. Aids for hearing or vision changes. Notepads for memory issues. Sometimes we must lean on things just to keep our balance. Some survivors don’t have the option to walk. Or talk.

Ingenuity helps. Many survivors come up with clever devices or routines to assist them in accomplishing ordinary tasks. Some specialized items must be purchased, and may be cost prohibitive. Again, adaptation is necessary.

My recommendation to those in need is to find and join a stroke survivor support group. Could be a lifesaver – literally. These groups (both online and in person) offer ideas and resources for everyone, including caregivers, family and friends.

Sometimes it takes me longer to do a simple task. I tire easily, and fatigue may have lasting consequences. A chore that once was accomplished in a couple of hours now may take me a day or two. My personal motto on those occasions is “slow and steady wins the race.” It may take me longer to do something, but I will get it done. Again, adaptation comes in play to deal with weakness in my left side. Necessity is the mother of invention. That is in my nature, to be inventive.

So the title “adapt or die” is not necessarily accurate for most survivors, but could be a life-or-death proposition in certain situations, and may be exacerbated by confusion, frustration and panic attacks (unfortunate side-effects of damaged brains). Cruel, but true.

Bear with us, we are doing the best we can. Please adapt to our ways – a humbly requested show of patience, understanding and kindness – as we strive to recover a sense of “normalcy.”

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