During the first few weeks and months after a heart surgery, a heart attack or stroke, survivors and their families go through a wide range of emotions such as fear, depression, loneliness and anger. All of these feelings are normal.
Your loved one may have a fear of dying or experiencing pain. Many survivors are very sensitive to changes in their body, such as twinges of pain or increased fatigue. They may cry easily or become angry without reason. Don't take these things personally. Some of these emotions are the direct result of the stroke or heart attack. Others are a natural part of the recovery process.
In the beginning it's difficult to find a balance between doing too much or not enough. You want to encourage independence but also be realistic. Some survivors develop an unnecessary dependence on their spouse or other family members — often because they're afraid. At the same time, some caregivers take too much control of the loved one's recovery — not allowing the survivor to become independent. Your job is to find the delicate balance between pushing your loved one to the next stage of recovery and gently helping them understand and accept new limitations.
Depression is common after a stroke or heart attack. Generally, the depression is mild and short-lived. However, a more serious depression can develop. As caregiver, it's important to watch out for signs of depression that make it difficult for your loved one to provide self-care. It can decrease motivation and significantly increase the risk of future health problems. Studies suggest that depressed people are at higher risk for another heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, this depression can be treated.
Take a depression screening test from the National Mental Health Association.
This content was last reviewed on 12/28/2011.