Hemiparesis Living is difficult even when you have close family support or caretaker close by. However as we who have been injured in some way, or previously experienced head injury brain damage resulting in hemiparesis, as we age, or children grow up, spouses may move apart find ourselves living alone. The detrimental effects of hemiparesis do not go away and with aging even exhibit stronger effects where the need for safety and extra care by one self is increased. Myself. I was shot in the head in my early twenties followed by a coma and much rehabilitation in trauma unit and hospital. I was fortunate to be able to study engineering earning my degree, but most of the two decades that followed have had me dealing with implications of living with hemiparesis and to be honest as an engineer, found myself analyzing issues that came about and finding or developing best practices or methods. I hope these insights can be used or adapted to help others going through life after head injury or hemiparesis.
Safety Risks and Minimizing
Starting with safety. in general I can tell you that for myself and many spoken with in person or in online groups too, the worse effects that occur are when the body is tired. A close second is in the cold, freezing temperatures and inclement weather as snow sleet, etc.
By tired I say early in morning or especially late in the day. Arising in the night for whatever reason, can find legs extra wobbly and rather easy to lose one’s balance. Having halls where light can go on easily, possibly a motion detector switch and uncluttered walkways are a couple basics that can help prevent a sudden slip or poor footing. This can really prevent serious further injury. Trust me, one shoe or slipper on a dark walkway can turn out to be a violent fall. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a poor balance issue. Sometimes the weaker foot from say for example left hemiparesis or right hemiparesis will turn sideways and instead of landing on flat bottom part of foot., will actually land on the side of foot even at an angle sometimes. This can cause a quick fall and when this happens, a first reaction is to use the strong hand to grab onto something to catch balance. If there isn’t anything on the strong side, then a fall is really likely or partial fall likely. Keep this in mind when keeping the hall and bath safe. Railings are great, but easy to grab handles, even small ledges can help give a person’s balance back. They have suction cup handles, lights that can be added economically for safety. Check a local large hardware store as Lowes.
Besides having something available on good side, simply walking slower, smaller steps will help. Walking in socks alone on some surfaces can be like walking on ice to a person with hemiparesis. For example. I can walk OK on most carpets that are wall to wall but when I approach tile or ceramic flooring or a throw rug, slow way down for safety. A common issue in people with either left hemiparesis or right hemiparesis is tripping forward when their weaker toe drags and often is close enough to floor to catch it on a carpet or even have the toes roll over. Not having proper control of these toes will look to others as not picking up the foot enough. This effect can happen so fast and somewhat unpredictable. However, going back to the first premise, this will occur more often when the body is tired or weakened in some way possibly even from extreme weather changes. It is obviously more of a possibility when walking faster. Walking faster increases the risk. Note that there are items available in stores or online to adhere throw rugs to the floors surface. This simple action can be a life saver.
Regarding Assistive Devices
Some therapists and caretakers recommend canes either a quad cane or straight cane but I can tell you after a couple decades with hemiparesis, canes do not always work, they can actually give you a false sense of security causing people to move faster but not able to protect oneself in an accident. Most of the time almost always it’s the weak side that has the foot dragging or catching on something, maybe a rug or object or just twisting so that it lands on the side. And what happens next is either I would fall straight ahead and to the left very fast or tip sideways again to the left. I am using left here as the weaker side or left hemiparesis. Now the cane would be in the stronger hand, on the right side in this case and is not much help on the left. The left arm in many of left hemiparesis wont do much good either as it is too weak to prevent the fall and probably too slow to do anything in time
If a walker is recommended and one can be modified to use with one weakened side, then use it. Of course, you’ll want to learn to walk without it but for some it’s best to keep using. Check with your own health professional.
In the early days after a head injury or accident, wheelchairs are commonly use and effectively safe. Myself, I’ve used one after the coma for almost two years before graduating to a quad cane and then later using just he regular cane and now years later without the cane during the warmer months.
This last point is important with regards to wheel chairs. I had lived in the snow belt up in the Northeast when I was first injured and the use of the wheelchair was indeed a life saver with the snow and ice. It is not feasible for most to leave their home areas but if at all possible as people with hemiparesis age, a move to the southern climate or even out west is well advised.
Living with hemiparesis and living alone can be safer in the warmer climates, free of ice and snow. That may be obvious for walking but there are other benefits as well. The sunshine daily may even help your thinking and overall attitude positively, Sure you may still get a month or two of weather where it reaches freezing but it does not stay there for long. Aches and Pains can virtually disappear. People’s old injuries are often painful in cold moist weather. This is not different for head injuries, but in this case it may very be the brain that suffers pain. It is also the control center for emotions and that too can be better in the warmer climate. Lessons learned.