How to Say the Right Thing to a Stroke Survivor

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Updated August 13, 2015.

Have you ever wished you knew what to say to a friend, a family member or a coworker who is recovering from a serious illness? People with health problems such as cancer and stroke often notice that friends and well-wishers can be tongue tied when they don’t know what to say. Stroke survivors are met with artificial, often exaggerated enthusiasm meant to cheer them up and may crave laid-back conversations because friends and family can be so tense while trying to avoid saying the wrong thing.


When you know someone who is recovering from a stroke, it is important to know that social support, in and of itself, helps the healing process. Pleasant interpersonal interaction helps prevent depression and releases chemicals and hormones that promote brain recovery. It is a lot easier to talk to someone recovering from a stroke when you know what she needs to hear. 

Here are 7 things that every stroke survivor needs to hear.


1. One Day at a Time.

Genuinely applaud the small improvements that your friend is proud of. Being able to walk 10 steps can be a great achievement for someone who could barely walk 2 steps a week ago. Don't set unrealistic expectations by saying that your loved one should be able to go back to running marathons next year.

Leave the specifics of goal setting to the therapists who know the personal details about your friend’s stroke deficit. It is true that having an attitude that, ‘the sky is the limit, ‘ is encouraging. But some stroke survivors might worry that falling short of your lofty wishes will be a disappointment.

Show that you accept your friend regardless of the long-term outcome. Most stroke patients know that improvement may be minimal or substantial and that there is a level of unpredictability. 

2. Can I Help You

-Better yet- what do you need next Monday?

Offer to help and designate a time to make it ‘real.’ Most survivors do not want to be a burden. When you set a few specific days that you want to help, it can encourage someone who is hesitant to take you up on your offer.

3.What Can I Move for You?

Many stroke survivors need to rearrange items in the house to make day-to-day life more convenient. When people have old things they want to get rid of, seasonal items to move, or things that need rearranging, the effects of a stroke feel even more profound. Often, these tasks that may seem quick and easy for you can seem overwhelming for a stroke survivor living with a new handicap.

4. Acceptance of the Situation

A stroke is an unwelcome shock no matter how you look at it. To make matters worse, there are many controllable risk factors of stroke that, perhaps, could have been better taken care of in the years leading up to a stroke.  Don't take it upon yourself to blame the survivor for not taking care of herself. Don’t blame the spouse or point out that the adult children 'don't call enough.' Don’t blame health care providers for not doing enough.

The stroke happened. Blaming a survivor for not taking care of his health prior to the stroke is pointless. There is no benefit to making someone feel bad about unchangeable events- just look towards the future. Doctors work with stroke survivors to evaluate for risk factors and make a medical plan to prevent further strokes, so you do not need to bear this duty for your friend.

5. Can You Help Me?

This can really make your friend feel alive. Ask for help or advice about his area of expertise, whether it is raising kids, gardening, cooking or religion. Most people thrive on respect and recognition. If you can remind a stroke survivor of her abilities and ask her to share some know-how, your chat will produce benefits that last for a long time.

6. Lets Just Hang Out.

Go for a walk, lunch, shopping, crafting, volunteering, or just a visit. When you tell someone who is recovering from a devastating illness that you just want to hang out together for fun without a sense of obligation, you essentially allow your friend to look at the new chapter in life. You are giving your loved one reassurance that the future is about much more than just illness.

7. What Are Your Plans…?

When you ask about his plans for his next birthday, anniversary etc., you show that you believe in the future and living life to the fullest possible. A stroke may prevent or delay spending golden years traveling the world, but it absolutely doesn't have to put an end to enjoyment


Many of us are not naturally inclined to saying the right thing. For some of us, empathy and connection take planning and a little thinking ahead to be able to imagine how to put oneself in another's shoes. A stroke survivor will benefit when you put thought into what to say to make sure he is comfortable and to make your one-to-ones encompass what he needs to hear.
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