How to help someone having a stroke?

Close up of young person holding an older person's hands.

When it comes to stroke, every second counts. You can potentially save someone’s life and help limit brain damage by understanding what stroke is and what the warning signs of stroke look like.

If you’re concerned that someone is experiencing a stroke, look out for these signs:

  • Face – has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms – can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Is their speech slurred and can they understand you?
  • Time Is critical – act now.

First, and most importantly, call triple zero and stay calm. Do not drive to the hospital yourself, as first-responders can start the life-saving treatment on arrival, as well as selecting the best hospital for the person’s condition. Meanwhile, here’s what you can do to help someone with stroke:

  • Ensure the person displaying symptoms is in a safe, warm and comfortable position, ideally with their head slightly elevated. If you suspect loss of capacity in their limbs, it’s best to avoid moving them.
  • Loosen any tight or restrictive clothing and ensure they’re breathing. If they’re not, perform CPR.
  • Ensure airways are clear.
  • Do not give them any food or drink.
  • Never administer any medication.
  • Monitor their condition carefully, noting the time their symptoms first became apparent, what those symptoms were, as well as any injuries sustained or changes observed in the interim.
  • Do not let them fall asleep.
  • If they’re unconscious, put them in the recovery position.

Stroke emergency management

Clot-busting medications can stop, and even reverse, symptoms. They must be administered — only by a health care professional — within 4.5 – 9 hours.

Some patients, experiencing an ischemic stroke, may also be considered for surgical clot removal. But this must be administered within 24 hours of symptom onset.

That’s why it’s so important to provide accurate information to clinicians regarding when symptoms first emerged. In all cases, the earlier the treatment, the greater the chance of a positive outcome.

Stroke emergency protocols

Australia’s Stroke Foundation has developed Clinical Guidelines for Stroke Management, as approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), for best-practice in managing stroke and transient ischaemic attack (TIA) in adults.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has also established the Acute Stroke Clinical Care Standard, highlighting key aspects of care for acute stroke.

For each, the importance of early assessment and time-critical therapy is emphasised.

Getting support after stroke

If someone you know has experienced a stroke, they may need additional support at home. You can connect with independent support workers through Mable who can provide different support services, such as personal care, social support and domestic assistance, nursing care, support with being physically active and exercising, and much more, to support you to live independently in your home.


Given that every stroke and every person is different, there is no guaranteed trajectory for improvement. However, there are certain things you can do to increase the speed and effectiveness of recovery.

  • Repetition: Stimulating the brain, by consistently repeating tasks or thoughts, activates neuroplasticity – enabling you to find new ways of doing things, or using different parts of the brain to achieve the same goal.
  • Prioritise: Don’t ask too much – focus on the most important things first.
  • Commit to rehab: For your brain to rewire itself, you need to actively and consistently participate in rehabilitation.
  • Healthy diet: The right diet can help reduce damage to blood vessels, control blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Conversely, a diet high in salt, sugar, saturated fat and alcohol can increase your risk of further stroke.
  • Sleep well: Rest supports neuroplasticity – the brain’s restructuring and creation of new neural connections.

To help a person with stroke, it’s important to:

  • Give practical and emotional support as they process their experience and adapt to the ‘new normal’ – including taking responsibility for their own decision-making.
  • Encourage self-sufficiency, to support recovery and the rebuilding of confidence.
  • Adapt your relationship to suit their changed capacity, including communication and interests.

Ensure that the right supports are in place.

Through Mable, you or someone you know who has experienced stroke can find independent support workers to assist with recovery and rehabilitation. Support workers can help with a range of things, such as assistance with daily activities, maintaining an exercise routine, personal care and domestic support.

While it’s not possible to reverse damage caused to the brain through oxygen deprivation, gains can be made through:

  • Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Rehabilitation.

Which option is suitable will depend on factors including the type of stroke and the time elapsed between it happening and receiving treatment.

Carry out the FAST test, to identify stroke symptoms, and then immediately call 000 and await a first-responder. After that, St John Ambulance advises:

  • Reassuring the patient, who may not be able to clearly communicate, causing them extreme anxiety
  • Helping the patient to sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Support the patient’s head and shoulders on pillows
  • Loosening any tight clothing
  • Keeping the patient warm
  • Wiping away any secretions from the patient’s mouth
  • Staying with the patient until medical aid arrives.

In terms of the big-picture treatment of stroke, there is a three-pronged approach by trying to:

  1. Stop a stroke while it is happening – through medical treatment
  2. Overcome its impacts through rehabilitation
  3. Prevent another stroke, by treating issues and improving general health.

You should always call triple zero if you suspect a stroke. Do not try to make your own way there, or take anyone directly to hospital – await a first-responder so they can choose whether to administer treatment before transporting, and select the best possible facility to deliver care.

Fundamentally, rapid treatment and access to the best possible care is the only way to minimise damage. Even in the case of a mini-stroke, it’s vital to seek assessment to prevent further, and more severe, episodes.