Background: Post-stroke disability often disrupts family roles and responsibilities. Role reversal, in combination with the disabilities, is emotionally taxing and physically fatiguing for both the stroke survivor and the family caregiver. Depression can result and when left undermanaged can lead to poor health outcomes. Research has shown social support is an important factor in recovery, post-stroke and caregiver depression. Studies have indicated high levels of social support are associated with faster functional recovery and more extensive recovery in stroke survivors. Also, that social support is independently associated with the presence and severity of post stroke depression and that positive social interaction is a significant contributor to variance in initial post stroke depression.
Purpose: The purpose of this critical review was to examine the research literature on the relationships of social support and coping strategies with health-related outcomes among stroke survivors and their family caregivers.
Methods: Twenty-five articles published between 2000 and 2016, identified by key terms related to stroke survivor and caregiver emotional and adjustment support needs, social support, depression and effective interventions, were reviewed.
Results: We found overwhelming evidence that attention to stroke survivor and caregiver social network can advance recovery and improve the health and well being of both stroke survivors and caregivers. Knowledge gaps and focus on emotional and adjustment support needs are not being adequately met by community-based health services. This points to an important need for changes in practice to acclimate stroke survivors and their family caregivers to their new life roles, but also the need for more rigorous studies.
Conclusions: In addition to more research, there is a critical need for changes in facilitating transitions of care to meet the emotional and adjustment needs in the stroke population. Encouraging health professionals to screen for social network presence and size and promoting support-seeking behavior may help advance recovery and improve the health and well being of stroke survivors and family caregivers.