Brian Beh is a 71-year-old stroke survivor who sustained a left lacunar stroke in April 2016. A retired management consultant and corporate communications executive, Brian is no stranger to confronting and managing corporate change in the business world. As a pioneer of change management in Australia, this background and experience assisted Brian during his 4-month inpatient rehabilitation stay.

From a starting point of 0/5 strength in his right side and confined to a wheelchair, he improved to a point where he was able to walk out of the hospital on discharge day!

Along the way, Brian was able to observe good and not so good interactions between health professionals and stroke patients. He now shares these insights and learnings with physiotherapists at university {both practising and final year students}. The manner in which therapists communicate with patients was one area of concern for Brian.

How to talk to stroke patients – A stroke survivor’s point of view

When communicating with patients, eject the term ‘patients’ from your lexicon. They are people first- people who have suffered a life-changing trauma. In the tick of a clock, their life and lifestyle have in many instances changed dramatically. So any contact/ communication must be carefully crafted and delivered. As they are mature in years, they don’t need to be addressed as if they are a small child or conversely a doddery old person bereft of their cognitive skills.

It is demeaning and insulting to the stroke patient or PERSON lying in the bed or sitting in a wheelchair when therapists address them like a child. It happened to me after my stroke and the health care professional (!?) in front of me was taken aback by my aggressive verbal retort. My response or request to this person was, in colourful terms, to leave my presence and return only when they understood how to address a mature, well-educated man.

One minute before the stroke people can function normally, drive a car, play sport, then suddenly that is gone, and the person may not yet have come to grips with these facts.

NEVER EVER adopt a condescending, patronising tone when talking to the stroke survivor. Never say that wretched phase “I understand” because unless you have had a stroke, you DON’T understand how hard it is for an adult to learn to walk again! It was the toughest thing I have had to do! Treat and speak with respect. Remember you are their GUIDE so lead them. Don’t fall into the trap of doing their rehabilitation for them. Show them the path then step back and watch them undertake THEIR journey.

At the end of the day, put yourself in their shoes.How would you feel if you were addressed and treated like a child?

Brian A Beh